Attackers Report:

Captain Perez Mendoza is on a unicorn.

You might like to say, Captain Perez Mendoza is riding a unicorn. Certainly, he'd like to say that. And in certain technical senses it would be true. He is on its back; it is moving; for the moment, even, it does not appear to be actively attempting to kill him.

It is not at all clear, however, who is in control of this relationship. Certainly the unicorn appears to be heading in the correct direction - that is, towards Alexandria, where the great Talismantic Cornerstone of Gaia stands. Those accompanying the unicorn would probably like it to be going a little slower, but it projects such an aura of impatience that one has to admit that it is already being restrained beyond any precedent to let them keep up with it at all.

So the Gerosans keep up with it; the Tenizidi keep up with it; the Azarch keep up with it, although their freshly hatched bodies seem to be showing almost as little strain as the unicorn itself at the steady jogging pace that it has set. Francisco Corvega, of course, finds it no trouble at all, but Sancho Traviez, Sancho Fernandez, and Bess are finding it rather a struggle - and as for poor Rosario, she also has the task of keeping an eye on the handful of Azarch warriors to whom has been trusted the task of balancing the arbalest, as it is dragged behind the unicorn on ropes.

The ropes are attached to Captain Mendoza, of course. The unicorn would not take anything as civilized as a harness. For a creature that cannot speak, it is exceptionally clear and eloquent on the subject of not being a beast of burden.

Mendoza's hunting cat keeps pace by his side, but you can tell it is rather put out by having to play second fiddle to his latest acquisition.

The Tenizidi are as inscrutable as ever, and are certainly doing their best impression of not being exhausted; Commandant Putok strides proud and tall, Artisan Kulak ploughs forwards doggedly under the weight of his flamethrower, and Kontic lopes forwards in a frankly predatory gait. Xanthan, the Hunapha, is also determined not to show weakness; and as for Roberta Wesson, she still seems to be treating the whole expedition like an exceptionally fun game, running off and swooping around the vicinity of the war party on her nascent wings without a care in the world, black braids flowing in the breeze.

It is, then, Roberta who cheerfully reports that the Flembic have managed to rouse themselves - even though their capital city still smoulders in the warm summer air - and, in the way of Flembic forces throughout history, has lined up a great army on the open plains.

Alas, the entire gods-damned peninsular on which Gaia's cornerstone squats - and all possible approaches thereto, apart from the maritime, which the party is unfortunately ill-equipped for - is comprised entirely of open, flat plains. They are maybe not quite as impenetrable as when they were well-tended farmland; the ritual of Paradise has caused riotous plant growth which might provide some modicum of cover, but out here in the long-tamed Flembic colony even the vines and fruit-bushes of Paradise are barely waist-high at best.

The natives are not convinced that you are going to sneak an arbalest past that army - and there are over three hundred of them, maybe four, which is nothing on the armies of Flambard back in the Known World but quite considerably outnumbers your horde of a hundred and twenty recently hatched Azarch. If you had a hundred and twenty Gerosans, maybe you could roll them up from a flank, or something, but the Azarch are incredibly young and not capable of acting on their own initiative.

Also, there is the unicorn. It does not look likely that you will dissuade the unicorn from its course. Captain Perez Mendoza is understandably reluctant to part himself from its back after the considerable effort that went into getting him there. And its course does appear to be set to take it straight through the middle of the Flembic force, if Roberta's excitable reports are even slightly accurate.

But... there is Francisco Corvega. He is, of course, acutely aware that he is no match for an entire army of four hundred; probably not even for the assembled Flembic heroes, given that Roberta has spotted Caterina Flambardi and a sizeable contingent of the Terino Marines along with a wide range of other notables. He is, however, a wildcard; you do not think that they have any way of knowing his capabilities.

If you have to go through the middle of the Flembic lines, maybe shock and awe can carry you through, and the Azarch can buy time to make good your escape.

Rosario Lopez points out the arbalest-sized flaw in this plan. Captain Perez Mendoza is also somewhat reluctant to be parted from the arbalest, but nowhere near as reluctant as to the idea of relinquishing the unicorn. A new plan is formed. Only the unicorn and Francisco need to go with the main force. They will thoroughly distract the Flembic army - hopefully also with Mendoza and Corvega breaking through and making it out the other side - while the Tenizidi, the ophidians, the other Gerosans and few enough of the Azarch to be easily controlled will take the arbalest around the side of the army.

There are two flanks to this army. On one side the terrain becomes sparser and sparser of cover until it dips down into the sea; not a good place to get caught. The other is between the army and the obvious rallying-place of their reinforcements, the Asilio Bussola. Neither is a good choice. Eventually, they pick the side near the Asilio; at least it will give them more directions in which to run away.

Bess and Sancho Traviez elect to follow Captain Perez Mendoza into the thick of the battle - they argue that the hundred myrmidons will need someone to direct them, and Captain Mendoza and Francisco Covega are likely to be... busy. Sancho Fernandez is somewhat tempted to go with them, but realises that the surgeon really needs to stay with the party most likely to make it through - Sancho Traviez can staunch and so there should be time to meet up with the others and treat their wounds on the other side, if the plan even slightly resembles a success.

Shortly, it is time to start implementing the plan. Rosario cuts the arbalest loose from Captain Mendoza and selects a group of quiet-looking Azarch bearers to carry it. Sancho Fernandez looks somewhat despairingly at Commandant Putok's bright red coat of plates; it does not exactly blend into the undergrowth. Roberta leaps back and forth, and claims she has found a route that looks reasonably sheltered through some heavy fruit bushes, as much as there is any shelter here; the arbalest will still stick out, but at least they should be able to conceal the exact numbers and positions of those who move with it, if necessary.

The arbalest group let Captain Mendoza and the unicorn race off, the majority of the Azarch galloping after them, and give them a decent head start to get properly engaged with the Flembic forces before beginning their own march - which, despite their aims and best efforts, they cannot entirely bring themselves to call 'stealthy'.

A volley of musket fire issues from the Flembic lines, and a ballista starts up from the right flank, as Captain Perez Mendoza barrels towards them, the unicorn in full stride and the accompanying Gerosans and Azarch sprinting flat out over the last hundred yards. Fortunately many of them appear to be aiming at the unicorn, as Captain Mendoza hunkers down and tries to shelter between its huge be-horned head.

So it is thus that the Gerosan wedge - Captain Medoza and the unicorn in the middle, and swiftly behind him Francisco Corvega, who tears through troops and weapons alike with dreadful ease - flies straight into the middle of the Flembic formation, backed by a hundred heedless, sprinting, clawing Azarch warriors.

Caterina and Haversham attempt to get their troops to close ranks, but it is hopeless; Francisco knocks the halberd out of the hands of some dracoscion who seems unreasonably competent with it and sees it shatter to pieces, slices several of the Order of the Steel Rose practically in half with the other claw, then takes out a line of shields and is through to the archers. Virgil Apuleius empties a brace of pistols and attempts to square off against Francisco with his lightened bastard sword, but after simply taking several of his best blows, Francisco casually shatters the sword in his hand with a flick of its wrist. The archers scatter out of his way and take a few skilled shots as he barrels off after Captain Mendoza and the unicorn - who the troops have mostly just kept out of the way of, aided by a couple of blasts from Mendoza's flamethrower - and both are soon out of sight of the lines, free and clear on the other side.

The rest of the force is much easier to repel, however. Alastair Fforbes-Smythe and the New Montforte Orchestral Division methodically cut down swathes of myrmidons with the ballista, while the Expeditionary Forces of the Terino Marines close in and surround those who have engaged too closely. Bess finally finds a way out for the pair of trapped Gerosans - she calls on the power of the Maelstrom and sends the eidolon Progress fleeing away from her, which clears a path that Sancho Traviez keeps open with his flamethrower as they run.

The arbalest squad have made respectable progress by the time that Roberta reports that Lady Isabella De Lefevre, Patrick Kettering and Cristian di Rienzo have broken a sizeable chunk off from the flank of the Flembic army and are heading in their direction. There are a hundred troops with them, plus many of the Lower City's finest Huntress devotees, and the eidolon Mithril appears to have excellent information on the arbalest's position - although it is pretty obvious once you start looking for it, despite Rosario and Sancho Fernandez's best efforts at last-ditch camoflage.

Roberta reports that she gave them a nice dose of the old dragon fire, but musket fire still stings a bit and she doesn't want to overfly them too much more. There is a quick discussion of the options, and then the Tenizidi and all the Azarch that can be spared from the carrying of the arbalest, and Xanthan with her obsidian clubs at the ready, cautiously break off and approach Patrick Kettering's section of the force.

Commandant Putok, with his red coat of plates, is flanked by Artisan Kulka with a flamethrower, Kontic with his hammer and shield, and then Manifestation of Twilight on the opposite side to Xanthan. He indicates to the Flembic contingent that he desires to parley. Patrick Kettering stands down the nearby troops and takes a small retinue - including Ilario, Grigur, Cadence, Benediction and Ire of the Huntress - out to meet them.

Lady Isabella, Havelock, Cristian and Chloe do not show up to the parley - they have probably realised that this just a delaying tactic - and take Rienzo's Rangers and Caldborn's Irregulars onwards to track down the Gerosans and their arbalest.

The Commandant speaks eloquently of the purpose of their little raid; they have no quarrel with the Flembic, he explains patiently, in fact their intention is to save them from having to deal with an unpleasant matter themselves. They must understand, they have a very dangerous construction in the settlement of Alexandria - one of the pillars by which the earth itself has been blasphemously awoken! The Gerosans and the Tenizidi only wish to rid them of this vile structure, so that they will be safe from its unpredictable and child-like wrath. They understand how they do not feel that they can do this themselves, as their lands are entirely within the creature's monstrous grasp, but with the Tenizidi lands being well to the south, they are willing to do this service for them and take the inevitable retribution upon themselves.

Xanthan nods along with the explanation, lending her support, and Kettering seems for a moment to be properly mesmerised by the double-act. Then the Huntressites exchange worried glances, give agreed signals, and launch forwards as one in an unexpected attack.

Kulka turns his flamethrower on the assembled, causing enough confusion for the Tenizidi to get back behind the Azarch line, such as it is. The sudden action breaks Kettering out of the state that he was in, and bowing to the inevitable, he orders his troops forwards to slaughter the Azarch and the Tenizidi. Knowing an impossible situation when they see one, the Tenizidi and Xanthan make themselves scarce.

Meanwhile, Isabella and Cristian have located the arbalest. They are quite sure this is a trap, and check thoroughly for ambush locations, but the tallest fruit-shrubs maybe put a few shoots up to shoulder-height - there is nowhere to hide. So they motion their troops forwards and attack.

It is, alas, not a trap - although Rosario Lopez gets a few good shots in with her pistols before they close. Sancho and Rosario both call the piercing alarm cry that they have arranged as a backup signal for dire need as the Flembic soldiers overwhelm them. As Cristian and Construct begin to execute the bleeding Gerosans, an answering cry is heard through the bushes, and the winged ophidian Roberta crashes down onto the arbalest and interrupts them with her searing flames. Isabella and Havelock both shoot her, but her intrinsic toughness continues to protect her and her armour has dealt with most of the earlier damage.

Construct and Cristian are just beginning to climb the arbalest, the Rangers following Cristian's lead, to get to Roberta - whose presence appears to have sent Cristian quite beserk - when Francisco Corvega arrives at a terrifying sprint and destroys two of Kettering's men with two quick swipes of his claws.

It is looking bad for Isabella's squad, until a voice rings out from a nearby shrub - it is Arata Michi, calling on the power of the Maelstrom - and the Teacher, although this appears to be something of an afterthought - to paralyse poor Francisco.

Shakily, Arata gets to his feet, and looks at the horror-struck Flembics that he has just saved.

"Run," he advises.

They do not need a second warning, much to the relief of the bleeding Gerosans who know exactly how hard Francisco is, the ferocity of his opening attacks notwithstanding. The Flembics run.

Warily, the Tenizidi and Xanthan return to the arbalest; someone, thankfully, finds a Pumice they didn't know they had on them, and Sancho Fernandez begins to put himself and Rosario back together.

Traipsing onwards to the meeting point, it appears the Flembic have lost interest in them, or perhaps believe that enough of them are dead that they no longer pose a threat. Only seven of the Azarch manage to make it to the rendezvous; three from Warrior Unit 032, and one each from Warrior Unit 015, 017, 018 and 019 - so they may well be right about that, depending on how Alexandria itself is defended.

Captain Mendoza, Bess and Sancho Treviez also do not make it to the rendezvous point - but this is because they have been forced by the pace set by the unicorn to travel on to Alexandria, rather quicker than planned...

Alas, Mendoza's hunting cat is nowhere to be found. Even now, the Flembic are probably mounting its head on their wall, and making the proud beast's tough hide into a decorative rug.

Defenders Report:

More defenders gradually trickle into the Asilio.

Virgil Apuleius; Caterina Flambardi with her personal guard; Lord Simon Hartnell with the rest of the New Montforte soldiers; Alexa Mace of the Terino Marines and a few more of Lysette Cooper's Terino Blues. Grigur Veranto. Cadence Dale. The eidolon Mithril, accompanying Charlotte Farnsworth's troops, the Stout Hearted Men, the Farnsworths Pioneers, and the last survivor of the Flambardi 21st Infantry Unit.

Chloe Durand of Rienzo's Rangers, with the few Rangers that survive and three determined tradesmen with muskets calling themselves the Flembic Community of Chocolatiers.

Then the handful of James Higham's troops that remain, the last of the 1st Alexandrian Guards, Solaine Chase's Tritoni archers, Stefano Tito Demeo's Angels with Dirty Faces. Some more reinforcements from Captain Millington - the 2nd Freeport Red Coats, the Captains Men, and Lothar Erhardt's Saren First Eisenkreig, Second Infantry Volunteers and Silent Warriors.

Finally, Governor Patrick Kettering arrives, empty-handed from his tour of the remaining colonial holdings, to find New Terino in ruins. Shortly thereafter, Construct and Benediction appear in the Church of Golden Enlightenment; they appear to be looking for him, although primarily to check that he is alive and unhurt.

There is not much time for introductions, as Charlotte Farnsworth calls down from the watchtower that there are significant forces incoming from the west. Governor Patrick Kettering, Lord Drane Haversham, Caterina Flambardi, Lord Simon Hartnell, Cristian di Rienzo, William Cooper and Lady Isabella de Lefevre all crowd into the watchtower to hear for themselves; Charlotte gazes through the telescope and reports that the majority of the incoming force, of maybe a hundred and twenty, looks like the newly hatched Azarch warriors from Prosperity's Offspring - Jeshur's hive, the Auction House forces - but at their head are the Gerosans, and some of the Tenizidi, and one of the mutated ophidians with wings....

...and Captain Perez Mendoza leads the entire force, but he's _riding_ on some kind of native... it can't be... a unicorn?!

They're travelling unusually openly for Gerosans, although it looks like it would be difficult to be stealthy with over a hundred stupid myrmidons and a half-wild unicorn. It also looks like they will miss the Asilio entirely - they are set to pass well to the north, most likely heading towards Alexandria.

Lord Haversham immediately sets about getting the Flembic army formed up and in position to intercept them on the broad, open plains of Alecbridge - whilst all of that beautiful flat farmland is now somewhat overgrown, there are vast swathes still where nothing is more than ankle-high. It is one thing to be beset by strange native terrors, and quite another to risk being defeated by Gerosans.

The assembled armies of the Flembic are still reasonably satisfying, by New World standards; a hundred hard hitters with archers behind stand in the middle, with Caterina Flambardi, Lord Drane Haversham and Virgil Apuleius; another hundred Terino Marines stand on their immediate flanks; on the left flank, ready to cover ground all the way back to the Asilio if necessary, stands Lady Isabella de Lefevre, Cristian di Rienzo and Patrick Kettering with the Smithite Alliance troops bolstering the few survivors of their own men; and on the right, covering down to the coast, stands Lord Simon Hartnell and his New Montforte soldiers, with Alastair Fforbees-Smythe, Henry of the Ordo Dictum Dominus and the Orchestral Division's ballista.

Charlotte Farnsworth insists on remaining in the Asilio watchtower, with her own troops around her, and Construct and Mithril remain with her to carry messages out to the troops if necessary; she reminds everyone that Gerosans are unlikely to meet the assembled lines, but no-one else wants to donate troops to keep the Asilio reinforced. To be defeated by Gerosans by trickery is almost acceptable; to be defeated by them in open battle because one underestimated their strength and split one's own forces is unthinkable!

But these Gerosans appear not to be changing their course, despite the fact they must have seen the Flembic lines by now; in fact, they do not really appear to be in control of their course at all, Charlotte realises as they get closer. The unicorn appears to have got the scent of something, and while Captain Perez Mendoza is attempting to look like he has any control over the beast, he is essentially just a passenger; the others are practically running to keep up with him, which must be exhausting over the distances they are covering.

So it is thus that the Gerosan wedge - Captain Medoza and the unicorn in the middle, and swiftly behind him some monster that bears a passing resemblance to an ophidian, but tears through troops and weapons alike with dreadful ease, and the inevitable flamethrower-toting human and ferocious wemic in close behind them - flies straight into the middle of the Flembic formation, backed by a hundred heedless, sprinting, clawing Azarch warriors.

Caterina and Haversham attempt to get their troops to close ranks, but it is hopeless; the hideous monstrosity that is running behind the unicorn knocks the halberd out of the hands of one of the Kings of Clubs and it shatters to pieces, slices several of the Order of the Steel Rose practically in half with the other claw, then takes out a line of shields and is through to the archers. Virgil attempts to square off against it, but after simply taking several of his best blows it casually shatters the sword in his hand with a flick of its wrist. The archers scatter out of its way and take some shots as it barrels off after Captain Mendoza and the unicorn, but both are soon out of view.

The rest of the force is much easier to repel, however. Alastair Fforbes-Smythe and the New Montforte Orchestral Division methodically cut down swathes of myrmidons with the ballista, while the Expeditionary Forces close in and surround those who have engaged too closely. It is the wemic, Bess, who finally finds a way out for the trapped Gerosans - she calls on the power of the Maelstrom and sends the eidolon Progress fleeing away from her, which clears a path that Sancho Traviez keeps open with his flamethrower as he runs.

At first, from her vantage point, Charlotte is sure they must have seen it. Surely there is no good way to hide an entire arbalest in an area which, at its worst, is waist-high brush? But it looks like no-one is keeping a particularly good eye out from the army, so she sends Mithril out with the message that the Tenizidi and a couple of the Gerosans have broken off with a small force, and are attempting to sneak an arbalest past the main group.

The main battle being well in hand, Lady Isabella De Lefevre, Patrick Kettering and Cristian di Rienzo break off their flank and hurry after the reported location of the arbalest. There are a hundred troops with them, plus many of the Lower City's finest Huntress devotees, and Mithril reports that the arbalest squad only has around twenty of the Azarch with them.

Their first contact with their target is the overflight of a winged ophidian with a wild mass of black braids, leaping from the top of the arbalest to rain fire down on the Flembic, obviously hoping that they will chase her as a distraction. The Saren First Eisenkreig take aim, and she spirals down, wounded, in the distance.

Then the Tenizidi and most of the Azarch, and one Hunapha - Xanthan - with her obsidain clubs at the ready, cautiously break off and approach Patrick Kettering's section of the force.

Commandant Putok, with his red coat of plates, is flanked by Artisan Kulka with a flamethrower, Kontic with his hammer and shield, and then Manifestation of Twilight on the opposite side to Xanthan. He appears to want to parley. Patrick Kettering stands down the nearby troops and takes a small retinue - including Ilario, Grigur, Cadence, Benediction and Ire of the Huntress - out to meet him.

Lady Isabella, Havelock, Cristian and Chloe are suspicious - they think this is just a delaying tactic - and take Rienzo's Rangers and Caldborn's Irregulars, who they can persuade to follow them, onwards to track down the Gerosans and their arbalest.

The Commandant speaks eloquently of the purpose of their little raid; they have no quarrel with the Flembic, he explains patiently, in fact their intention is to save them from having to deal with an unpleasant matter themselves. They must understand, they have a very dangerous construction in the settlement of Alexandria - one of the pillars by which the earth itself has been blasphemously awoken! The Gerosans and the Tenizidi only wish to rid them of this vile structure, so that they will be safe from its unpredictable and child-like wrath. They understand how they do not feel that they can do this themselves, as their lands are entirely within the creature's monstrous grasp, but with the Tenizidi lands being well to the south, they are willing to do this service for them and take the inevitable retribution upon themselves.

Xanthan nods along with the explanation, lending her support, and Kettering seems for a moment to be almost mesmerised by the double-act. Then the Huntressites exchange worried glances, give agreed signals, and launch forwards as one in an unexpected attack.

Kulka turns his flamethrower on the assembled, causing enough confusion for the Tenizidi to get back behind the Azarch line, such as it is. The sudden action breaks Kettering out of the state that he was in, and bowing to the inevitable, he orders his troops forwards to slaughter the Azarch and the Tenizidi.

Meanwhile, Isabella and Cristian have located the arbalest, which appears to be being dragged by two worried Gerosans with only a couple of Azarch helping to keep it out of the mud. They are quite sure this is a trap, and check thoroughly for ambush locations, but the tallest fruit-shrubs maybe put a few shoots up to shoulder-height - there is nowhere to hide. So they motion their troops forwards and attack.

It is not a trap - although the mokosh, Rosario Lopez, gets a few good shots in with her pistols before they close - but Sancho and Rosario both let out a piercing cry as the Flembic soldiers overwhelm them. As Cristian and Construct begin to execute the bleeding Gerosans, an answering cry is heard through the bushes, and the winged ophidian crashes down onto the arbalest and interrupts them with her searing flames. Isabella and Havelock both shoot her, but this seems to have little effect; the musket shots from earlier do not appear to have injured her as seriously as would be expected, either.

Construct and Cristian are just beginning to climb the arbalest, the Rangers following Cristian's lead, to get to the ophidian - whose presence appears to have sent Cristian quite beserk - when the beclawed, immensely strong, monstrous ophidian - or a creature stitched together from many things, it appears, only some of which are ophidian - arrives at a terrifying sprint and destroys two of Kettering's men with two quick swipes of its hideous arms.

It is looking bad for Isabella's squad, until a voice rings out from a nearby shrub - it is Arata Michi, calling on the power of the Maelstrom - and the Teacher, although this appears to be something of an afterthought - to paralyse the creature where it stands.

Shakily, Arata gets to his feet, and looks at the horror-struck Flembics that he has just saved.

"Run," he advises.

They do not need a second warning. The half-dead Gerosans can have their arbalest. They run.

The main battle is all over but the cleaning up, and the secondary battle that Kettering was involved in similarly; a hundred dead Azarch lie on the soil of Alecbridge, in return for only half that number of Flembic troops, and the Gerosans are stripped of their supporting army even if they managed to personally flee the battlefield.

There is one last battle in this chapter of the Flembic saga - a lone native cat-like monster manages to slip over the walls of the Asilio while Charlotte is distracted by the fight near the arbalest, and before it can be put down, it savages several of Farnsworths Pioneers, one of whom does not recover.

Local News:

The assembled armies of Flambard march out of the Asilio and arrange themselves in a great battle-line across the plains of Alecbridge; their intention soon becomes apparent when a flying wedge of Gerosans leading a hundred Azarch warriors determinedly engage them, in a rare frontal assault which is rather out of character for the stealthy and dishonourable Gerosan nation.

However, the point of the wedge is taken by Captain Perez Mendoza demonstrating a mastery that none other has accomplished - he is riding one of the monstrous unicorn creatures of this land! And the creature that follows in his wake is hardly less of a terrible marvel of the New World - a creature stitched together from several others, but recognisably ophidian at base, it tears through the Flembic troops like damp tissue paper.

There are, however, almost four hundred in the Flembic force, led by such luminaries as Lord Drane Haversham and Caterina Flambardi, and the return of Governor Patrick Kettering and Lord Simon Hartnell has bolstered the morale of the troops that look to them; they make short work of the hundred Azarch warriors, even if they cannot catch Mendoza on his incredible mount.

Colony News:

It is one thing for the Flembic to be beset by strange native terrors, but quite another to be challenged in one's own territory by Gerosans!

So when Captain Perez Mendoza leads some horrible, beclawed ophidian monstrosity to Alecbridge - along with, if the reports can be believed, a tame unicorn of his very own - the Flembic army are lined up and ready to receive the charge. He brings, of course, hundred and hundreds of myrmidon warriors with him also, but those are scarcely worth mentioning these days.

And for once, the Flembic have their victory; it appears that the unicorn and the monster have made Mendoza overconfident, as he engages the assembled Flembic army straight up, almost unheard-of for a Gerosan attack!

Naturally, the well-prepared Flembics cannot possibly lose such an engagement, and all of the enemy forces are utterly defeated.