Tallie,

she had called you in her letter. The troops in Kubla Msakaji were mustering. The orders which had come back from the festival, with rather fewer of your broodmates than you had been expecting, were simple. Burn everything. Then head over to Corundum.

They were not, alas, the only thing that had come back from the festival. Before you had even picked up your flaming torches, there was word of trouble. Dracoscion scouts, black ones, had been seen in the bushes. One of the Blood Moon Talons reported having taken a potshot at a young black dragon who had skylined himself incautiously.

Please leave your dragon now, while you are able. Last festival the scions were found plotting sedition and treason against Hoenheim. I suspect Sulcofuron is going to completely loose her grip on sanity because of it.

The twenty lightly armoured humans of the Dragon Yeoman (4) Quatrus assemble a defensive formation around the elite Blood Moon Talons, a well-trained unit of Tritoni archers who are impatient for some real action. Eight dracoscions keep order in the ranks, spears and shields at the ready. And the rest of Sulcofuron's forces in this port city, calling themselves the Blood Moon Huscarls - and they even have a couple of genuine Merisusi, two mokosh and an avian, amongst the Free Islands birds and humans - arrange themselves raggedly around the edges, in what could optimistically be called a 'skirmish formation'.

I'm sure already that groups with dragons will say to you, "join us and we will protect you". You don't need to be protected. All you need to do is come to the colony with your weapons put away. When you are asked where your loyalties lie then have a reply ready. Do not keep your loyalty to your dragon. I know this will be hard, but don't throw your life away on a lost cause.

In this cautious formation, you make your way down to Portus Lady Moon's Haven, the first target of Sulcofuron's ire. If you can destroy the port, the shipyard will be rather less useful, after all. You almost think you have made it when the dockside looks entirely clear, apart from the usual mooring posts and piles of mostly-empty crates, and some kind of wooden lean-to.

Then the pistol shots ring out, and suddenly there is a young black dragon on either side of your force - Hoenhiem and Lord Steam have come themselves to defend the port! There seem to be black dracoscions everywhere, leaping out from behind crates and hacking down your Huscarls with their halberds.

You have a good formation going, though. You keep it together. Your archers fire calmly from the midst of the defensive wall of humans, your dracoscion sergeants keep their charges in line, despite the terror of dragon fire being enthusiastically employed from one side and the lucerne hammer being skillfully applied by the second, heavily armoured dragon in the opposing forces.

I know what it is to loose a dragon, Lam and Vadims dragons have returned home. I know you won't want to accept another dragon's blood for a while, so all I offer you is a home with others who understand what you must endure. You would be considered an equal in our group and welcome to stay as long as you wished.

There is a moment when you think that the battle might be turning in your favour. The dragons are making little headway against your wall of armoured humans, and already they bleed from the arrows of your deadly Tritoni archers. The Huscarls have scattered, of course, and two of your sergeants are down, but the balance is definitely on your side. You shoulder through the over-excited archers and kneel by the injured sergeants, preparing to do what you can for their wounds.

Out of the corner of your eye, you see something impossible happen. That wooden lean-to, resting on the crates over there? It was much closer than it had been before, and it was still moving.

The arrows of the archers spatter off its finely crafted surface as the mantlet advances on your position. There seems to be some kind of argument behind it, something about going faster. The mantlet goes faster. And faster. It doesn't look like it is going to stop.

Skidding in front of one of the dragons, cutting them off suddenly from the barrage of arrows, the mantlet disgorges two heavily armoured Merisusi mokosh and one slightly less heavily armoured, all of which charge straight into battle. The lightly armoured one, armed slightly unconventionally with sword and shield, has an excellent turn of speed and has slaughtered an officer and two surprised humans before the other two catch up. The archers are mostly firing at the other dragon.

Please leave your dragon Tallie and come so we can look after you until the dust settles and you can choose your own path.

Ingvar - yes, that Ingvar, the one in the tavern stories about how he single-handedly slew a kraken of the deeps after it had eaten his ship - barrels into your line with alarming force, his long axe scattering humans left, right and centre. Ulfgar Ivarson is not far behind him, although he appears to be lugging half an army's worth of equipment. Your archers eye the war bow and deck bow slung either side of the mokosh with envy, but only for a few moments before they scatter out of the way of his axe. The press of combat from the humans closes on him briefly, but their uncrafted armaments are no match for his heavy armour, and he seems astonishingly steady on his feet.

Meanwhile, Aelfred dances through the battlefield as if it isn't a terrible crush of bodies, facing down officer after officer. Then his eyes alight on you. Snatching up a spear from the dracoscion you were working on, you prepare for a moment to face him, but the last sergeant of your troops steps in front of you, resplendent in full chist armour, ironwood spear at the ready.

DarkFire

She is not here herself, of course, but these could almost be of her brood, so alike their colour.

The dragons and their minions do not pursue you, as you leave the area with the port and the shipyard behind. You could not in all conscience call it a retreat.

Your Tritoni bowmen mostly trickle back unharmed, although all but one have abandoned their shields, most of their armour looks beyond repair, and many have even dropped their bows to aid their flight. Three of them didn't make it.

Three is also, alas, the number of humans you have left from the Dragon Yeoman (4) Quatrus. They find you a little while later, along with two Free Islands humans and two Free Islands avians from the Huscarls, all rounded up by the last standing sergeant, who has somehow survived his duel.

The letter is nowhere to be found.

With a rather dispirited remnant, you head on towards Corundum.

---

Lord Steam and Hoenhiem really pulled it out of the bag at Kubla Msakaji, so you hear. Despite the crack Tritoni archers of the Blood Moon Talons and the strong garrison of dracoscions and humans, led by the capable surgeon Taleria, attempting to tear the docks down as soon as word came back from the festival, the young dragons were already in position and had even constructed giant crates to hide inside, in order to maintain the element of surprise! There are also confused reports of some Merisusi being there, but that might just be the Blood Moon Huscarls, who were part of the port's garrison forces. Anyway, the port has fallen to the black side and it's probably not a great idea to go there wearing red or pledging allegiance to any iridescent ladies, is the word on the street.

---

How to hold a port against a superior force, who are already in position?

You sweep in from the festival as swiftly as may be, and just as swiftly enact the plan you have been discussing on the way. Your Mayan Halberdiers, alert for trouble, meet you on the outskirts of the settlement, and warn you of the other troops within; Hoenhiem scarcely needs the warning, as he had already drawn fire from the settlement whilst surveying the area for potential trouble with his telescope.

It didn't have much power at that kind of range, but someone down there is a very good shot.

You waste no time, getting to the port at an impressive clip, despite the mantlet that Veush has brought along. Nobody begrudges it now, though; it should be invaluable cover to get your heavy, close-in fighters right up to the enemy lines without those deadly archers getting a chance to ruin their day.

On the way, you brief the halberdiers. They are a little skeptical of the plan, but the authority of two dragons is plenty to convince them. As you arrive, practically at a run, they scope out the available cover opportunities and check the sight lines from the settlement approach, then hunker down behind piles of crates and similar dockside detritus.

Lord Steam and Hoenhiem evaluate the mantlet skeptically, and decide on extra large piles of crates instead. Lord Steam seems rather disappointed not to get to play with the new toy, but with three burly mokosh and a dracoscion hiding behind it, there isn't much room for further inhabitants. Especially as Ulfgar is wearing two full suits of armour - one full steel harness and one enchanted cuirbouilli under that - and has brought another change of magical clothing and every weapon that he owns, including a deck bow, just in case...

When the home team comes into view, an argument begins behind the mantlet, in fierce whispers. Impatience to be in position and get into the fray wars with good sense and not springing the trap before it is time. Eventually, the start of the battle is decided when Lord Steam can't take the excitement any longer and lets off a pistol in the general direction of the vaguely circular mass of incoming troops.

Whoever's in charge of this lot is not stupid. It's probably Taleria, the red dracoscion safely ensconced in the middle there with her serious-looking Tritoni archers, their twitching tails the only sign of their eagerness to fight. Around them is a full circle of armoured humans; they don't seem to have any weapons of note, but presumably their main weapon is those eight dracoscion officers with them, especially the guy in full chist armour with an ironwood spear.

And there are some skirmishers, of course, who your dracoscions are making short work of around the edges, having leapt fearlessly out of their cover when the first shot rang out. The scions are paying for their boldness, mind - the Tritoni are as good a shot as advertised, and not all of them are concentrating on turning Hoenhiem and Steam into decorative pincushions.

The trap well and truly sprung, the mantlet rumbles awkwardly forwards to join in the fight, much to the relief of Lord Steam, who really has started to bleed quite an alarming amount. Whilst the feeble attacks of the humans and their sergeants have been held back just fine by the heavy armour and the occasional encouraging tap from the lucerne hammer, the Tritoni arrows seem to have a habit of hitting him right in the face, or the neck, or any other unprotected area they can find.

Hoenhiem is just about holding his own with a few gouts of flame, but is in danger of being overwhelmed when the mantlet finally rumbles into position, neatly cutting off Lord Steam from the stream of arrow fire and letting Veush go to work on his wounds. The officers look like they are just considering how to approach the new encumbrance when Aelfred springs out of cover and has one of them on the floor before her human bodyguard have the chance to interpose themselves.

Ingvar barrels into the line with unstoppable force, his long axe scattering humans left, right and centre. His heavy swings break up their formation as thoroughly as they looked like they were planning to break up the port around them.

Ulfgar Ivarson is not far behind him, single-mindedly in pursuit of those archers, who pause for a brief moment to glance enviously at the deck bow and the war bow casually strapped to the mokosh's sides, before scattering nimbly out of the way of his axe. The press of combat from the humans closes around him briefly, and might have borne a lesser man to the ground, but their uncrafted armaments are no match for his heavy armour and he stands firm, methodically hacking them down.

Meanwhile, Aelfred dances through the battlefield as if it isn't a terrible crush of bodies, sweeping humans out of his way with a few words and a gesture, then facing down officer after officer. Eventually he sees an opening for the real prize. Taleria snatches up a spear from one of her dracoscions, abandoning her surgical duties and readying for battle. But the last sergeant of their troops steps in front of her, resplendent in full chist armour, ironwood spear at the ready.

He isn't a match for Aelfred, but there is a moment of confusion where two humans back into the ongoing duel from either side, unbalancing the focussed mokosh. One of the humans grabs onto his shield to steady himself, but succeeds only in tearing it away from its bindings; the other catches his sword at an awkward angle, one which is guaranteed to leave the damn thing embedded securely in the target's ribcage.

In the confusion, the chist-armoured sergeant manages to scarper. But the battle is practically over, bar the mopping-up. Ingvar knocks over the last standing dracoscion, Ulfgar has managed to chase down a couple of the archers, and the bodies of the human guards litter the dockside liberally, along with the bodies of many of your own halberdiers, and a couple of unknown Merisusi - two mokosh and an avian, maybe two of those if that scrawny one isn't actually a Free Islander - that seemed to have been fighting alongside Taleria's Free Islands skirmishers.

Working feverishly, Veush manages to stabilise five of the halberdiers, having tended to the dragons.

You have enough left for a small patrol, a continued vigilance along the docksides, but you think that the remnants of that force are unlikely to try their luck again. Now to hope that Sulcofuron doesn't feel like sparing anyone else for reinforcements…