Most of the fires started during the attack had since been put out. Yssantis made his way through the narrow rows of houses, his cloak whipping around him in the strong wind. Lampposts and uprooted trees lay strewn across the streets, and a number of walls had collapsed. Some of the city’s inhabitants were clearing the debris bit by bit, but they worked slowly, as if out of deference. The chaos had quietened down - just the lone voice of a city guardsman could be heard now and then, barking out orders and instructions.
It was already getting dark, but no one seemed to be paying any attention to Yssantis anyway. Even so, he made every effort to remain unnoticed, welcoming the shadows lengthening between the houses as he silently walked through the rubble that was lying everywhere. He cursed inwardly when a piece of smoldering wood got caught in his cloak and singed it.
The streets were steeped in the blood-red glow of the setting sun, and most of the townspeople were seeking out the safety of their own homes, fearing that the unknown attacker would return.
The empty street ended in a large square. Yssantis came to a halt, pausing for a moment to take in his surroundings. He had almost reached his destination. The hood of his cloak kept slipping down, and he pushed it back slightly from his face with his scaly hand. Although it limited his view, he had learned in the past that anonymity was more useful than comfort.
He’d arrived at the market square. Usually vibrant with activity, it now resembled one of the many ghost towns in the outer districts. The harsh wind whistled through the alleyways and eerily swept dust across the square. The statue in the center of the square had survived intact and sat enthroned in the last rays of the evening sun. Yssantis turned from the scene with a sigh and disappeared down one of the side streets to his left.
He continued on his way, passing more piles of rubble that attested to the battle which had taken place just a few days before. Three guardsmen glanced in his direction but, seeing no cause for concern, they returned to their conversation as they loaded a few barrels of beer from the ruins of a shop onto the back of a pick-up truck. Some distance away Yssantis could make out the sign of an old hotel – he had reached his destination. He wondered to himself whether the person he was hoping to meet would make it on time despite the unrest. Yssantis wouldn’t have been there at all if the attack hadn’t happened. He had made the journey because he wanted to help his old friend understand what was really going on.
Yssantis stopped in front of the steps of the hotel and cast his eyes over the exterior of the building. The red clinker-brick facade of the multistory building was decorated with small, round basket awnings above the windows that were trimmed with brightly colored valances. Originally the same color as the facade, the material had since faded. Some of the windows filled the entire height of one story, with ornate iron balustrades in front of them. The bedrooms of the former hotel were situated on the upper floors, while the first floor stood out from the rest if the building, with large windows flanked by anthracite-colored pillars, behind which was a bar. Most of the hotel was in darkness but from the windows of the bar shone a dim, warm light that Yssantis found particularly pleasing. He went up the steps to the entrance and noticed a small flag bearing the coat of arms of the city of Konstantinopol, which was hanging above the doorway and flapping energetically in the wind. Behind the door was a heavy velvet curtain, which Yssantis pushed aside with a casual flick of his hand. The bar was pleasantly warm, and the smells coming from the kitchen made Yssantis almost forget the grave nature of his visit.
“Yssantis!” The voice resounded from the far-right corner of the room. “Nice that you could make it on time despite the state of the city!”
Giving no visible reaction, Yssantis moved towards the cheerful voice. It belonged to a man of middle age with an unusual, if not extravagant, dress sense. He was wearing an open jacket with broad shoulders that was trimmed with fur along the collar and hem. The shirt beneath it hung down loosely over his hips, with just the front tucked into his trousers to show off the buckle of his belt, which boasted a striking coat of arms. His black trousers were made of padded segments of fabric stitched together, and on his feet were a pair of sneakers.
“It might surprise you, Konstantin, but I asked myself the same question about you on the way here. And I have to add that I’d prefer not to announce my presence to the entire town.”
Emperor Konstantin gave Yssantis the once over and pointed in amusement at his singed cloak: “I see that you didn’t survive the attack completely unharmed, either.”
Yssantis made no response, instead sitting himself down in an armchair diagonally across from Konstantin. As usual he sat with his back to the wall, so that he could observe what was going on around him and enjoy the atmosphere of the old, rustic bar. Along the walls of the main part of the room there were cozy alcoves with well-upholstered sand-colored armchairs and round chestnut-red wooden tables. In the middle of the room, directly across from the entrance, there was a long stone bar with tall bar stools in front of it. To the left of the bar a door led to a back room and the kitchen, from where the clattering of pots and pans could be heard. On the right-hand side the room extended back a long way , to where a stairway leading to the upper floors could be made out in the shadows.
Elaborate hanging lamps were the source of the warm and cozy light, and a large wood-burning stove against the back wall kept the bar at a pleasant temperature. Tall shelves crammed with antiquities were positioned between the alcoves to provide some privacy, and the walls were hung with exquisite paintings. Konstantin had managed to acquire some of these treasures in his earlier life and the rest after the Upheaval of the old world.
He had grown up in a wealthy family in the city then known as Istanbul. Konstantin had been involved in his father’s business dealings from a young age and had successfully established a network of contacts that had been of great benefit to him in various situations throughout his lifetime. After the Upheaval of the world, he hadn’t hesitated for long before seizing the opportunity to fill the power vacuum and create an exclusive place of refuge in his hometown. He renamed the city ‘Konstantinopol’ and gave himself the title of Emperor.
“You’re now in my private quarters, so to speak,” explained Konstantin. “No one will advertise the fact that you are here - for that we have enjoyed each other’s friendship too long. And that’s also the reason why I know that, while your visits may be infrequent, they are usually of great relevance! I can hardly wait to hear what you have to tell me today!”
Yssantis signaled to the bartender to bring him a beer before answering: “You’ll have to contain your excitement, Konstantin - it’s not going to be an easy evening for you. I’m here because I heard of the attack on Konstantinopol. I thought that you’d want to know what caused this destruction and how you can better prepare yourselves for something like this in the future.”
Emperor Konstantin was clearly upset by his words. “So, it’s going to happen more often now? We were lucky this time. There seemed to be only one, and just a few streets were destroyed during the attack.”
“That’s true,” replied Yssantis. “That product of extremely bad taste on the market square – your statue – seems to have survived intact.”
Konstantin laughed. “Every person has their foibles, dear Yssantis.”
“You forget that I’m not human, dear Konstantin.”
The server who was bringing over Yssantis’s beer overheard this exchange, but it seemed to make no impression on her, and she walked away unperturbed.
Not much of Yssantis was visible anyway. His upper body was covered in a grayish-blue fabric that was held together by a silver brooch and that also formed the hood. Beneath this cloak he wore a long brown robe with a dark hem. Several belts were fastened around his chest with small pouches that contained various prized possessions obtained on his travels. A mysterious pattern appeared on his lower arm when he stroked it with his other hand. His most remarkable feature, however, was his face – although his expression was almost impossible to read. Its pointy shape, the scaly skin, and the yellow, shimmering eyes made him look like a reptile, which could be somewhat disconcerting for anyone not expecting such a sight.
Yssantis looked down at the well-formed foamy head of the beer spilling over the edge of the glass and asked intently, “Were you able to see it properly, Konstantin? I mean, with your own eyes? And were you able to destroy it?”
A dark shadow seemed to cross Konstantin’s face, and his demeanor suddenly became unusually serious.
“That creature could certainly take a lot. A few attacks like that and our ammunition depots would be completely empty. Its appearance … it was terrifying. It moved without making a sound, and it had an aura that seemed to absorb the light. Everything around it was shrouded in complete darkness while it shone ever brighter, emanating a blinding golden glow, almost like an …”
“Like an angel?” interrupted Yssantis.
“Yes, that’s exactly the right word. We wanted to examine the damned creature when it was finally lying motionless on the ground, but it shot into the sky with a beam of light, towards that … colossal ‘thing’ that has been in Earth’s orbit for two years now.”
Yssantis slowly pushed back the hood of his cloak and began to tell his friend the whole story.