The Caliph's Sanctuary, the strongest walls in the New World; surrounded by the Great Dune, a good fortified curtain wall...
But we had nothing with the range of their trebuchets, nothing that could pierce their mantlets, and - it sickens me to say it - no-one who could hold a candle to the daring of their fiercest warriors.
No-one who could hold a candle to the daring of Vadasz-Ahu, the creature that was Nagateca; he who opened our great gates from the inside.
He did not fly over with his wings; we were ready for that, the Guards of the Firebird's Nest primed to shoot him down, some of our people in the streets to capture a lone figure, however fearsome.
Instead, his people brought canoes - low, sleek, fast river-boats, carrying five men so close to the water they are practically submerged - and coracles, and some creature from their gods that blew a hole straight through the river-grating, while we battled the forest itself come to our walls and the finest feathers of Alkyon combining their strength and stolen Schaffen technology with the most fanciful beasts of the interior.
Two hundred Rukh stood on the walls, from the newest recruit to the veteran Ospreys and Allegience Soldiers. Two hundred was the number of the fake dryads they fielded, the distraction force for the distraction force, manifestations sent from their gods; then two hundred Alkonians, three hundred Onontakha, almost a hundred great trees that had taken up their roots and taken up arms against us.
Sixty-seven of the Onontakha, we slaughtered in the halls; fully half the walking trees, forty-five were felled as they marched on the citadel; fifty-eight of the Alkonians dead on the floor.
We are halved in numbers, but no smaller in determination. The Black Fez are no more; 20 of the City Guard, all 13 of the Eagle's Claws, 8 Sons of Khaled, 8 Malikaran Defence Force Third Batallion, 6 of the feared Majestic Ospreys, 5 2nd Rukhi Colonial Marines, 5 Malikaran Defence Force Fourth Battalion, 4 Reserves, 2 Amir's Guard, 2 valiant axemen of the Magpie Marauders, 2 Mongeese, 2 from the Forest of Blades, 2 Rukhi Rangers Fourth Batallion, 1 of Khayam's Kookaburras, 1 of Phoenix Wing, 1 of the Malikaran Defence Force Fifth Battalion, the last of Third Batallion, all three remaining Emerald Guard, 1 of Amir's Harem Guard, one of the Allegiance Soldiers Second Battalion, 1 random facet spearman are lost to us; and 3 of Benedict's Boars, a small unit of facet spearmen that Benedict Delano left in the city who also came to our aid.
They have paid dearly for each of our lives, and we will continue to sell ourselves at such a price - or higher, as they venture into the beloved streets of our city, no doubt to defile and destroy as they have across all of our land. We will await our moment and we will strike again.
Riding the wave of Destruction as if they were born to it, the supremely disciplined and incredibly well-trained Alkonian army meet up with the unstoppable tide of natives and together they march upon Abu Malikari - and the forest marches with them.
The walls of the great fortress look for a moment like they might hold, despite the great earthquake beetles and the Alkonian trebuchets... but nothing can stand against the determination of the thousand-strong army, the best of the Old World and the New, that rages against its flanks, and eventually it falls.
And falls, and falls, and falls, burning and destroyed until there is barely one stone left on another, sinking into the swamp.
Abu Malikari - the crown jewel of the coast, the great city of the Rukh, behind the impenetrable fortress, the Caliph's Sanctuary and the curtain wall of the Great Dune. As the rivers flow together into the sea, so do the Alkyon and Native armies flow together into the vast, marshy flood plains in which the many-layered defences stand firm against them.
The Alkonian armies have brought trebuchets and a catapault, which they dutifully set up; Seige Flight and Eyrie City Guard begin their bombardment from a safe distance, beyond the range of the ballistae that the Rukhi siege engineers, the Guards of the Firebird's Nest, fire hoplessly at the sky - for Vadasz-Ahu soars overhead, checking out their defences.
Any mere fortified wall would eventually fall to the patient assault of the Alkonian forces, but the Caliph's Sanctuary is no mere fortified wall. Whilst the Great Dune, the layer of fortified wall in the defences, begins to show a few cracks, the Sanctuary seems to be impervious to the slow thud of the trebuchets' fire.
And the avenging eidolons are not the most patient of troops; denied their true quarry, they begin to stalk and threaten the avians they can see, the Alkonian soldiers. It is obvious that another plan is required.
Not content with trebuchets and a catapult, the Alkonians are also carrying a decent supply of mantlets. Vadasz-Ahu introduces the mantlet-bearing Cross Wing to their new best friends - the Earthquake Beetles. With a little cover, he suggests, the creatures can get right up to the walls, which they will batter down as easily as they destroy the great nests of the myrmidons.
Meanwhile, Slish and Salvatore gather the swift canoeists of the Tocho Trappers, The Stalkers of the Glade, The Spear Horn Prowlers and the Ul-So Raiders on the shores of the great southern river, along with Blizzard and his precious charge of explosive darkpowder. The river flows into the city; the fortress bisects, but does not halt, its flow. If there is a weak point in the fortifications, it will be there.
A plan begins to come together: a multi-layered plan, for a multi-layered defence. The trebuchets will continue to breach the fortified wall. The canoeists and coraclers will slip through near the river and ride it into the city, destroying the inevitable fortified grating with Blizzard's little present. As a diversion that might just work, Salvatore will lead Cross Wing and Fight Seige Flight in escorting the Earthquake Beetles up to the walls under the cover of their mantlets. And as a diversion that may well turn into the main assault, Coed and his dryads will use the Avenging Eidolons in the form of dryads as cover to approach one of the fortress' many trade gates, which the canoeists will unhitch from the inside.
The dryads set off first, as they need to circle the city and come in from a different angle to the assembled army; almost a hundred actual dryads mingle with two hundred avenging eidolons, supported by Coed and Fanor. Omneteca sets up his field hospital in the base camp by the trebuchets, with Peca Meca Teca alert for Rukhi saboteurs and attempts at ingenious plans to silence the siege weapon fire. Then Salvatore arranges Cross Wing and Fight Seige Flight around the Earthquake Beetles, and they begin to lumber forwards behind and beneath their extensive portable wall of mantlets.
Once the ballistae start up in the direction of the mantlets, and then swiftly also the dryads, the Trappers and Raiders start off down the river in canoes with Vadasz-Ahu and Slish in their coracles and Blizzard in Salvatore's. The Great Dune rises up around them, and they pull their river conveyances up onto the shore, silently lifting them in constant threat of discovery from above; but whilst Vadasz-Ahu's wings twitch, they make it stealthily through the nearby breach in the wall without a single arrow-shot from the beleaguered fortress issuing in their direction.
Now on the home stretch, they glide down the intervening stretch of river at great speed, and now they do attract a little bow-fire; there is no way to return fire into the tiny arrow-slits in the massive fortress walls, but soon they will be beneath the fortress' angle of fire... and the front canoe has jammed itself into some kind of underwater trap.
Leaping out, the Tocho Trappers make themselves scarce, as the Ul-So Raiders still in their canoes slow down and present an excellent target to the waiting Rukhi archers. Jumping out of the water and tossing his coracle and other equipment piecemeal at the boatless snakes, Blizzard runs full-tilt at the fortress and dives at the point the river disappears into a tight metal grating; before he hits the water, he has exploded, taking the grating with him.
Using the wrecked canoe to clear the rest of the low-lying stakes and floating chains out of the water, the infiltration party find themselves within the fortress.
Meanwhile, the earthquake beetles have made short work of the fortified wall, crashing into it again and again like battering rams while the Alkonian crossbowmen pick off the few brave pistoleers who expose themselves attempting to get a decent firing angle; Salvatore personally knocks one of them straight off his precarious perch with a well-placed round from his blunderbus. The remainder of the Rukh flee the wall into the fortress before the Alkonian charge; the unhurried march of the earthquake beetles rumbles on, and they collide heavily with the gates again and again, but these gates are made of sturdier stuff than the wall they so readily destroyed.
The Guards of the Firebird's Nest have some excellent spotters; they are not fooled by the protective camoflage of the fake eidolonic dryads, and Coed's forces take heavy losses as they advance. But they have come so far for this, and as they approach the gates, much to the consternation of the Rukh, they swing open to reveal Vadasz-Ahu personally welcoming them to the citidel, all six arms flung wide in exultation.
There are many swordfights up winding staircases, pistoleers and axemen suddenly springing from cupboards, and balconies bristling with Rukhi spearmen, but at this point the fortress is as good as taken, and what is left is mopping-up; the Rukhi still have some excellent veterans, but even The Majestic Ospreys are no match for the two hundred Alkonians who are also exceptionally well-trained.
A few final Rukh are shot dead by the devastating power of Seige Flight's specially treated longbows as they rappel down the inside of the fortress to disappear into the streets, and then it is time for catching breath and counting the dead.
As well as the 6 Ul-So Raiders shot in the water, Slish loses five Lonato Jungle Hunters, one Stalker of the Glade, one Spear Horn Prowler, two Shadows of Ohanzee, the entirety of The Eagles to a trapped staircase, seven of the Ahiga Stalkers to a trick balcony, and six Ssa'Bal Wolves; the Teca Tribe lose two of Torano's Hunters, one Chanter of the Canopy, four of Pride of Peacock and one of Silent-Tooth's Hunters to close fighting in the fortress, six Surgeon's Secrets, 3 Dragon Hunters and 3 of the Shattered Rainbow who just go missing in an entirely innocuous-seeming corridor, one Brave of the Balance, one of Peka's hunters, 1 Feather of Eagle and one Soldier of Serpent to various ambushes, and the whole unit of The Unbonded to distinctly superior Rukhi swordsmanship when cornered. Many more are gravely injured, but Omneteca drags them back from the brink.
Meanwhile, Salvatore lost two of the alkonian colonial crossbow 1, nineteen various Alkonian Colonial Dragoons including their token Schaffen, two of the Cross Wing, one Flembic duelist from 1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, Colonial Marines who could not outduel a Majestic Osprey, four facets from the 1st Marines, 2nd Platoon, Heavy Infantry, two from the seventh and one from the 2nd Crystal Wing, 5 of the 1st colonial Marines including their Schaffen too, three of the Reserves 1st Flight, 1 of the 4th and 3 of the 5th Talon Free Company, 3 of the 1st Talon Free Squadron, the entirity of the 2nd Squad, 1st Colonial Marines, the two remaining Silver Star 5th Wing, one from Heavy Flight, one of the especially talented bowmen from Siege Flight, and one halberdier in full heavy armour tricked into charging straight off the battlements.
And Coed lost Euk's 2nd Salubrious, 2nd Whispers and Forest's Own Scouts entirely, four of the ungainly clanking Rukh Bane and four of Euk's 5th Whispers, three of the Special Arborial Service, the 3rd Salubrious and Whispers, and Nature's Champions, two Forest's Braves, the two of Euk's 4th Whispers not issued with pistols, two Forest's Braves, and one each of Euk's 5th Salubrious, Forest's Right Hand and Forest's Bellow.
But now lies below you all of Abu Malikari for the taking - the plucking of the best and the burning of the rest - the great prize, so many proud buildings that are about to burn down, fall over, and sink into the swamp. A good few Rukh have already perished - the nine members of The Black Fez, 20 5th City Guard, all 13 of those that called themselves Eagle's Claws, 8 Sons of Khaled, 8 Malikaran Defence Force Third Batallion, 6 of the pernicious Majestic Ospreys, 5 2nd Rukhi Colonial Marines, 5 Malikaran Defence Force Fourth Battalion, 4 Reserves, 2 Amir's Guard, 2 vicious axemen of the Magpie Marauders, 2 Mongeese, 2 from the Forest of Blades, 2 Rukhi Rangers Fourth Batallion, 1 of Khayam's Kookaburras, 1 of Phoenix Wing, 1 of the Malikaran Defence Force Fifth Battalion, the last of Third Batallion, all three remaining Emerald Guard, 1 of Amir's Harem Guard, one of the incredibly tough Allegiance Soldiers Second Battalion, 1 random facet spearman... and 3 of Benedict's Boars, a small unit of facet spearmen that apparently answer directly to Benedict Delano of Mill'en…
For a moment, as the Rukhi ballistae plough through the field of onrushing trees that have come from the forest to destroy them, as the mighty Earthquake Beetles pause at the gates of the Caliph's Sanctuary, as the Alkonian trebuchets make little impression on the great fortress walls, it looks as if there could be hope for Abu Malikari.
Then hope is knocked from the heart of Rukh like the defenders of the walls are knocked from it by Salvatore Mantirini's blunderbus. A dull crump is heard from the river-grating; the all-consuming Vadasz-Ahu, six-limbed, bewinged harbinger of destruction, who once was Nagateca, flings wide the gates of the citadel from the inside.
It is not the end of the battle - the defenders of the citidel fight over every inch, and sixty-seven Onontakha perish, forty-five walking trees are felled, fifty-eight of the Alkonians are slaughtered. But in many ways, although half the defenders head into the city swearing vengeance on their foes, it is the end of the war.