It seems that all of the various Churches of the Smith have decided to come and have a picnic at Rukh Reach. At least people assume that's basically what they're doing, when they're not bleeding to death in a sylladan field due to a shocking lack of basic precautionary measures and street smarts. There are a lot of them there, that's for sure, and apparently they've got trees and facets and myrmidons and all sorts, but apart from a couple of unfortunate altercations with the locals, they don't appear to be doing much...

---

Well, we kept up the pressure when the armies joined up, but that was the end of any really effective tactics, we thought.

Another of Bob's boys died of criminal stupidity in pursuit of sneaking out at night to raid the village. You'd think they would learn. Significantly less darkpowder was wasted, as they had all become much more paranoid and getting in pistol range of the combined army was not happening very often.

Then they gave us a gift. We thought it was probably the kind of gift that comes with added complications, but we couldn't resist unwrapping it in any case.

One of their theurges, Melei A-Riid, took out all of the people he thought capable of any degree of stealth, which combined all together on our own territory, did not make a detachment capable of stealth at all. And then he started chain-casting that detection charm, to flush us out, assuming we were necromancers or undead.

Fortunately, contrary to popular rumour, most of us are still very much alive and those who didn't make it are staying dead and going - mostly - to the Weaver, thank you very much.

There were still more of them in the detachment than in our entire force, but they'd taken some real losers, like those Grey Kerns we'd already decimated back at the grass amphitheater in Palm Springs, and what was left of Bob's boys. And neither their pathfinder nor the excitable commanding officers that had stopped them falling for our feint towards the capital last time had come out with them.

So, we got right up to them, because we know this land, and then we killed another couple of their archers outright before they got used to the fact that we weren't, in fact, glowing softly with the light of our guilt and evil deeds, and started to hit us back.

That poor theurge discharged his pistol like a cry for help, didn't really seem to know how to fight himself, but they'd got some particularly enthusiastic myrmidons and some of those Free Islanders were much better with a pistol, not to mention that Xavier guy with yet another greatmace.

If I never see a greatmace again, it will be too soon.

We formed up and did our fighting retreat thing as well as we could, although actually we were really hurting from that pistol fire and their weight of numbers. The worst thing was the glint in the eyes of the myrmidons every time someone dropped and we made the call to leave them behind. We tried to carry some of our wounded to keep them out of the breeding chambers, but given the demands of what we were doing it was hideously impractical.

It was so close; Xavier got cold feet and started to call them back, but he had a lot less authority than Marcus or Abassa, and these Malathian and Free Islander free spirits and relentless myrmidons just didn't want to know. But he was damnedly persistent, and he got them to hold off in the end.

Still shot us to pieces on the way out.

Most of the battalions didn't want to go back in after that, and I didn't exactly blame them, with the myrmidons waiting to pounce on the bodies like that.

I persuaded some of the crack shots to go back in by heading back with them, and we got one more of Bob's boys, but we're going to need something more serious than what's left of the fifty of us to seriously ruin their day.

---

When you meet Old Man's Will in Rukh Reach, you find out Millington has had just as much trouble with Ihsan Altair's little surprise patrol down here as you did in Palm Springs.

Tomisaburu Arashikage does what he can to patch up the mokosh of Smith's Arm that haven't quite died of their pistol wounds yet, and his skills are also required to fix up one of Bobs Boys who caught a serious bleeder off one of the many hit-and-run pistol attacks that are constantly besetting the force.

Meanwhile, the myrmidons of Hive Unity are becoming quite agitated that they haven't got any of the corpses of their enemies yet. They are very happy to be here helping the Alliance prosecute their war, they reassure you, but it would be nice if the bodies could be used too; they especially appeal to Millington, who they seem to think might be more sympathetic to their cause than Marcus. They fall back in line, however, when Strike gives them an earful about the importance of proper Amun-Sa funerals for all those that once lived.

Morgan De Rik can be heard unhappily repeating something about 'the weak destroy what they could control' once he thinks he's out of the angel's earshot.

Now that everyone is together, and after another one of Bob's boys is found dead in a field after sneaking off on some errand of their own, Ingvar suggests a tighter security regime. There are only a couple of Rukhi civilian families here, and the farm workers are all Free Islands wemics; compared to the number of civilians at Palm Springs, this makes it much easier to advise the civilians to stay at home for the duration and keep a keen eye out for rogue avians.

In the hope that some of the forces arrayed against them might be the undead or necromancers that Rukh were now famous for, and maybe they could flush out something worth fighting, Melei and Xavier headed out with a contingent of the more subtle troops - followed unavoidably by the three Hive Unity myrmidons, who were determined to see some real action. Mainly the Free Islanders, but also the remnants of the Grey Kerns, for their capacity to shoot down a fleeing target at range without making themselves quite as obvious as the First Bowyers in this heavily deforested area or the heavily armoured Merisusi archers of the Chieftain's Gift.

Having had increasingly little success against the greater force, the Rukh forces attempted one last throw of the dice.

None of them being at all necromantic, Melei's magic had no effect on the forces creeping through the sylladan fields. None of them were outlined in the faint light that the archers were searching for. The Rukh were on their home territory, and they sprang out of seemingly non-existent cover, practically on top of the detachment.

The ambush was still outnumbered even by just the detachment of the army, but they moved swiftly to take out the archers at close range. Once again the Grey Kerns were overwhelmed at close range, as Melei discharged his pistol, more to make a loud noise that might attract the attention of the main army than because it was going to be particularly effective.

Once again, the Rukh formed back up and attempted to engage in a fighting retreat. This time they had rather underestimated their opposition, however, and although their good order prevented massive casualties, a couple of them dropped and were reluctantly left behind.

Vandercoon paused as the bodies were temptingly abandoned, and glanced at his Hive Unity hivemates, Vandertorik and Morgan, for guidance. But the fighting was still fierce, and at that point one of the mokosh from Lost and Lonely staggered back right past them with a spear straight through his torso. With one last longing look at the bodies, and a determination to come back later for them, they carried on the fight.

This time it was Xavier who called a halt to the pursuit. Remembering the previous altercation in Palm Springs when Abassa had suddenly taken off after the pursuing troops, he began to insist that they pull back and let the other force get away, before the enormous patrol that Marcus was convinced was based out of Abu Malikari decided that they were now within its operating range.

Pulling back these triumphant troops who were mostly making gains took some time to negotiate, but eventually they stood down, following the retreat only with arrows and pistol fire until it was well out of range.

By the time the bodies of the enemy were gathered together, Strike and Nivyan had made it over from the main force, ready to administer funerals.

Morgan De Rik stalked through the self-congratulatory mass of victorious troops, fixing their armour with the power of the Maelstrom and a muttered litany of anger which seemed to disquiet even his hivemates.

"By the power of the Maelstrom, the weak destroy what they could control, like this armour. The Smith's power will mend this armour like it will mend the ways of the wasteful. The Smith's hammer will pound the wasteful into dust to contemplate their mistakes. The stronger communities will conquer the weaker, like the power of the Maelstrom will conquer the sliced open leather and the broken rivets of this armour. The weak burn on a fucking pyre what they could control."

There are a few more half-hearted attempts by the Rukh to take some potshots at the army, but only one of Bob's boys is stupid enough to get separated far enough from the many surgeons in the force to actually die of it.

The army of the Smith, of the Soldier, of the Old Man of the Sea waits at Rukh Reach, ready for the coming season.