It is, the Rukh have to admit, somewhat embarrassing that a vast Alkonian army has sprung up out of nowhere and marched straight into Masjid Malikari. That was a nice city, and they were enjoying it. However, that's nowhere near as embarrassing as the fate of a decent chunk of that army, as told by the half of Capitol Defence Force that makes it back to Abu Malikari.

You can't make this up, they say. Single Rukhi soldiers leading heavily-armed battalions in long and involved chases over the Masjid Malikari rooftops; indefatigable lone snipers leaping from the back of buildings as bleeding Alkonian soldiers desperately searched the building they have just vacated; Alkonian Colonial Marines seduced and taken advantage of in a more deadly fashion than they had expected; crazy Flembic ponces who ventured down dark alleys to accept formal challenge to honourable duels; the competition to see how implausible a story could be and still attract a unit of naive facets into an ambush...

You'd almost think they won, but alas, there is no justice or poetry in the world: Masjid Malikari has still fallen to the Alkonians.

---

It is at Masjid Malikari you expect to meet serious resistance, and indeed you do.

Salvatore Mantirini raises the first alarm, in the dead of night. He has seen the tell-tale flash of an incautious telescope, reflecting the pale light of the moon. You send the unnervingly quiet facets of the Crystal Wings and the 1st Marines, 2nd Platoon, Heavy Infantry out into the night after the Rukhi scouts. The whisper of arrows cuts through the silent dark as they hunt down the Amir's Talon Guards who have been observing your encampment.

Despite your precautions, it is impossible to more an army of your size over open ground without the alarm being raised. As you approach Masjid Malikari, it is clear that the Capitol Defence Force has arrived before you, and set up within the fortified walls of the settlement. Many more of them must be hidden, however, or waiting to issue forth from Abu Malikari's fortress at an opportune moment; you count scarcely more than fifty on the walls, and none of them armed with the famous dragon cannons that the Rukh are so proud of.

Nevertheless, Seige Flight dutifully set up the trebuchets, and Eyrie City Guard do the same with their catapult; the area is carefully screened with Fight Siege Flight's mantlets against surprise incoming fire. There are plenty of excellent troops to cover all sides of the siege emplacement, as you suspect the Rukh will not stay on the walls long once the bombardment starts; especially as they appear to be lacking in obvious siege weaponry, and inexplicably this situation continues even when you give the order for the trebuchets and catapult to commence firing.

A desultory shower of arrows is the only defiance that the Rukh provide from the walls they call The Tapestry; and whilst they are finely built walls, they cannot withstand your siege engines forever. There is a puzzling lack of resistance whilst you complete a nice breach in the fortification and begin to form up your units to take advantage of it. A few Rukhi bowmen re-emerge when the bombardment is called to a halt - after all, you would quite like to be able to use that wall yourself later - but surely the real trap must still to be sprung.

Now the city is so invitingly open, however, it would be a shame to let paranoia rule so utterly that you did not proceed further. You are confident in your fine and disciplined soldiers to react professionally when the other shoe drops. Still bristling with caution towards all possible fronts, with the mantlets arranged for a forwards wedge ready to break off to the sides against any source of fire, your army advances.

Some of the Rukhi bowmen melt away when it becomes obvious that the mantlets will protect your troops from their best efforts, and your own bowmen and musketeers return fire; The Bailiffs, a small squad of archers, insist on holding their ground and continuing to fire into your ranks. This state of affairs is rather untidy, if not really that dangerous; as Jacob van Ginkel heads through the breach, he calls out a few words of magic, knocking the attackers off their feet. In the precarious footing surrounding the breach, and under fire from your troops, this proves suitably fatal for both of them.

Still no trap.

The streets of Masjid Malikari are narrow and winding, and here at last you start to face the resistance you expected. You attempt to keep your troops together and avoid relaxing your guard, but there are many important locations to secure, and many ordinary Rukhi citizens with their large trousers attempting to sell your soldiers a drink of water, some fresh fruit, their daughter's sexual favours, and so on. Some of these ordinary Rukhi citizens turn out at a moment's notice to be highly trained and extremely deadly Rukhi soldiers.

It is very tempting to just instruct your soldiers to kill everyone in the area, as disaster piles upon disaster; there are no decisive engagements, but it seems that every time you turn around, there is massed pistol fire through a window that on investigation belongs to an entirely empty house, or a flurry of arrows draws in a valuable unit like the Silver Star 5th Wing to take up sniping positions, only to have burly swordsmen drop from the rooftops and slice them apart before fading swiftly into the marketplace when support arrives.

There is still no dragon-fire, still no overwhelming force, but the constant need for wariness takes its toll on your troops. And some of them just can't be helped, really. ?1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, Colonial Marines, decide to honourably duel the Malikaran Defence Force Second Battalion when issued with a challenge, and only two of your soldiers make it out of the rendezvous, without accounting for a single Rukh. The Alkonian Colonial Marines and??? Alkonian Colonial Dragoons are particularly hopeless at constant vigilance, and their attempts to indulge their vices repeatedly end in fatal and ignominious fashions.

You remain convinced there just aren't that many of the Rukh, though; the main bulk of their army, if it even still exists, must be elsewhere. The attacks gradually decrease in frequency as the count of dead Rukh grows higher, and after Arturo Moretti finally slaughters a particularly persistent pair the locals call the Death Dealers - one Rukh and one Onontakhan, specialising in hit and run bow attacks, who finally let him get close enough to knock them off their fragile rooftop perch into the waiting arms of Heavy Fit Flight - they cease altogether.

A heavy price has been paid for Masjid Malikari - eighty-four of your troops have been assassinated, with only thirty confirmed Rukhi kills - but it is now indisputably yours, at the final butcher's bill of:

Alkonian Colonial Marines platoon three (1 casualty)

Alkonian Colonial Marines platoon four (5 casualties)

Alkonian Colonial Marines platoon five (4 casualties)

Alkonian Colonial Marines platoon seven (6 casualties)

Alkonian Colonial Marines platoon eight (5 casualties)

Alkonian Colonial Dragoons Platoon one (6 casualties)

Alkonian Colonial Dragoons Platoon two (4 casualties)

Alkonian Colonial Dragoons Platoon three (4 casualties)

1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, Colonial Marines (7 casualties)

2nd Crystal Wing (1 casualty)

3rd Crystal Wing (2 casualties)

4th Crystal Wing (2 casualties)

Sixth Crystal Wing (3 casualties)

Seventh Crystal Wing (3 casualties)

Eighth Crystal Wing (5 casualties)

unnamed unit (5 casualties)

1st Talon Free Squadron (1 casualty)

4th Talon Free Company (1 casualty)

5th Talon Free Company (2 casualties)

Silver Star 5th Wing (7 casualities)

Reserves 1st flight (4 casualties)

1st Colonial Marines, 1st Squad (1 casualty)

2nd Squad, 1st Colonial Marines (3 casualties)

Eyrie City Guard (2 casualties)

---

We've been totally caught with our pants down, if you'll excuse my Kamakuran, sir.

I mean, the fighting in the streets was pretty epic. We killed more of them than there even were of us. Mostly with their pants down, too. Those Alkonian Colonial Marines just shouldn't have been let off the ships; and whilst those facets are silent and deadly in the pitch black - Amir's Talon Guards never saw them coming, no idea how they found us out scouting - they also kept falling for every trick in the book, like nobody told them not to take candy from strangers.

And those Flembic duellist ponces, called themselves 1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, Colonial Marines, actually accepted a written challenge to an honourable duel from the Malikaran Defence Force Second Battalion.

But after all the excitement there were still thousands of them, well, at least four hundred, maybe three by the time we were done with them, and we were only sixty when we started, more like half that now. And you could see that brooding black and white one, ?Salvatore Mantirini, he was probably about to just flip out and kill every Rukhi he could get his hands on, and there are over fifty civilians in Masjid Malikari, so we figured we should call it a day.

Then they got our trophy Onontakhan and that scary bastard from the Death Dealers, that Arturo Moretti did some magic to knock them straight out of their sniper's perch into the thick of it, and the rest of us that were still breathing decided we'd like to keep doing that, behind the nice protective walls of Abu Malikari's fortress.

So, that's about it; we tallied up and we reckon we got eighty-four of theirs, for thirty-two of ours - six from the Baliffs, who had a feather-brained moment and stood on the walls to shoot uselessly at their mantlets; two from the Malikaran Defence Force Second Battalion, who got cornered in the market; seven from the Amir's Talon Guards, who didn't even get to join in the fun because the facets got them right at the start; six from the Seahawks, who did a roaring trade in entrapping Marines but eventually got a roomful of angry, steel-encased axe-wielding heavies instead; our favourites, the (2/C/C) Death Dealers, neither of who made it out; two from those Bold re-recruits who made an excellent show of daring despite their relative lack of training; and seven of the First Colonial Marines, who gradually died of drawing too much musket fire while distracting the Alkonians for yet another ambush.

They might have Masjid Malikari, but they haven't got Abu Malikari yet, and we'll make them pay at least five times as much if they try to take her.