Xanthan wasn't exaggerating. You're going to need the gargantua.

The Great Wall of Southern Kamakura towers across your path. It's made of wood, so there are brief daydreams about burning it down or just setting Hive Etzli to chew through it, but to be honest, that's what you brought the gigantic Hunapha siege-lizards for.

The way this thing is built, it might be that even the gargantua will have trouble; sure, they'll chew through it eventually, but it's well-braced and it runs for miles and miles in each direction; Taacateca goes bounding up and down to pace it out, but it easily reaches over ten miles each way. This is not the kind of fortification that can be shaken down; it is in an entirely different league to the chist defences and stone barricades that gargantua were designed to demolish.

And whilst there are hills, none of them matches the height of the towering wall. The jaculi and slaughter birds will have to handle the aerial assault on their own. Vadasz-Ahu eyes them speculatively, but Taacateca and Xanthan explain quickly that there is no way that either variety of animal, even in the numbers present here, is strong enough to boost them to a reasonable height.

Except maybe you won't need the Gargantua.

Someone has left the gates open.

That can't be accidental. You didn't have anyone inside, and the Smoke Leopards are adamant that it wasn't them. No-one else in the army has enough initiative... wait, perhaps Raoul Fremont's wemics. But you ask Wolf's Roses, the Free Islanders, and Scorpion's Sting, the mameluks, and they claim to have nothing to do with it either.

So it is certainly a trap - but what kind of trap could touch the seven hundred and fifty warriors, dwellers, avenging eidolons and monstrous creatures you have assembled? And it will save some time, and wear and tear on the gargantua, to not have to knock over the wall. It's very thoughtful of them, really.

Tactics are discussed back and forth; the Restoring Spirits warn of the defences that they faced in their first assault on these walls, the ballistae and the pistoleers, and so it is the Hunapha - after the Restoring Spirits, of course - who head up the procession, as they are at least a little less vulnerable to these things than the exoskeleton-reliant myrmidons.

As predicted, the wall starts to sputter ballista bolts in your general direction as you get closer, although at such a slow rate they can only have one of the weapons. A few exploratory flights of jaculi and slaughter birds reveal that the walls are well-supplied with ballista-sized arrow slits and no-one is being stupid enough to stand out on top of the walls, as they did when facing the avenging eidolons earlier in the season.

Whoever is at the ballista is pretty good at spotting targets. Both Vadasz-Ahu and Taacateca catch a bolt while they are looking around carefully, waiting for the other shoe to drop; Garu-Amun drags them under the gatehouse, which appears to be the best shelter from the ballista, to sew them back together.

Once safely inside the walls, Xanthan turns her attention to the problem of removing that pesky ballista crew. With a few commands, she mobilises the Creche Lodges of facet handlers from Bendul-Dolum to manoeuver the gargantua into position, giving the barred doors a good kicking; while the facets draw a lot of ballista fire, unable to all effectively shelter behind the gargantua as Xanthan herself is, the doors splinter in a satisfying fashion.

Ten'Etzi Horde finish the job with their bronze maces, the remains of the doors crashing out of their frames; Blizzard and Opochtli have gathered the Avenging Eidolons and rounded up a number of the giant snake monsters, stinger snakes and deathscales - the giant snakes because they can infiltrate the structure in ways awkward for the mostly ophidian-sized eidolons, the deathscales to neutralise any resistance that they did find.

As the entrances open, the eidolons pour in, intending to saturate the structure and drive out the ballista crew before the myrmidons are forced to come into range.

There are an awful lot of Hunapha dropping from the constant ballista barrage; whilst Garu-Amun works constantly beneath the gatehouse to fix the most promising specimens, the suspicious dwellers of the Warrior Lodges refuse the 'aid' of the eidolons, and Achelous finds himself busy laying the souls of the mostly Toad-devoted casualties to rest.

Xanthan hovers by the entrance to the walls, impatiently; soon, the avenging eidolons begin conveying to her prey that is not quite dead, unlucky Kamakurans and Free Islanders which she gleefully sacrifices before the eyes of their terrified, bleeding fellow defenders.

Finally, the ballista fire ceases. Neither Opochtli or Blizzard has found the crew; in fact, Opochtli has had to be discorporated after getting thoroughly wedged halfway down a deadfall which looked a lot like a set of wooden stairs. Blizzard finally locates their final resting place, the chewed remains of seven gnolls and five wemics and one incongruous Flembic mangled together with two deathscales hacked to pieces blindly by a moderately skilled swordsman and one giant snake monster carved apart significantly more competently.

The final threat eliminated, The Cleansing Flame of Sek Ganaku proceeds into the soft interior of Southern Kamakura, burning everything in their path.

Some of the myrmidons had strayed within ballista range: four from Opochtli's drone swarms, four of the good Hive Etzli warriors in the axe swarms, one from the untrained warrior swarms, and fully thirty of the newly hatched and over-enthusiastic Waspors Chosen who hurried to keep the Hunapha from taking all of the glory; two of the Sacuza New World Trading myrmidons, Azarch sent by Azul-Oso, also died of their wounds. The Hunapha had taken the bulk of the casualties, however; thirty-one of Ten'Etzi Horde and thirty-seven of the least useful from Bendul-Dolum's Warrior Lodges died on the march.

Several of the facets were missing after their brave attempts to handle the gargantua in the teeth of concentrated ballista fire; six of the Obsidimen Guard, two of the Creche Lodge of the Pit of Friendly Asps and three of the Creche Lodge of the Pit of Friendly Vipers, and their companions were unsure whether the general malaise they were operating under would allow their fellow facets to ever regenerate themselves, or whether that was the end for them.

All of Raoul Fremont's wemics were fine, of course. The mameluks had wanted to be further forwards, but the canny Free Islanders were there to restrain them.

Thirty-five of the avenging eidolons also served their purpose as decoys within the troops, or did not emerge from the walls, but they would be back.

---

carpeting the plains
murderous forms undreamt by man
rising tide of spring

The end of the world comes to Southern Kamakura.

Sweeping through the Great Wall at Desert Province - Serpent's Rest as if it was barely there, all the horrors of the South visit themselves on the peaceful people found within. Huge siege-lizards, acid raining from the skies, winged ophidians scattering all resistance; a great myrmidon queen marches with her army; the Hunapha citidels open and the dwellers therein pour out in unending profusion.

Dark clawed angels and walking trees accompany them, and perhaps most disturbingly, it is whispered that the mameluks march with them.

Is this the Final Army that will conquer heaven - body-stealing, soul-reaving savages and hideous clawed monstrosities?

Is this how the world ends - in chaos and in blood?

---

From the Great Wall at Sacred Rock Hill, Hun Gar Strike Force watch the beginning of the end of the world.

carpeting the plains
murderous forms undreamt by man
rising tide of spring

At first, the assembled forces at Gentle Glade cannot believe the reports. They explain their victory, that the strange and twisted creatures are as fragile as angels, that they have no way to breach the walls. Then James Nixon takes his telescope and he goes and he sees it for himself - the oni are there, of course, but there are so, so many more.

Two hundred of Bendul-Dolum's finest. The city has opened its gates and disgorged the dwellers therein. Two hundred of Hive Etzli; some newly hatched, some confident with axe and shield. And two hundred of the Oni, still - all returned from where they had been banished shortly before.

And off to one side, a small detachment of wemics; with a squad of mameluks, of all the things... and aren't those Raoul Fremont's Free Islanders?

...and, of course, the monsters. Towering siege-lizards, fluttering acid-spitters, cruel-clawed ravens, giant rainbow spiders, and the ground writhing with snake monsters of all shapes and sizes...

James looks at the forces available to him, looks at the walls, looks at the speed at which the vast army is approaching; then they withdraw, down the walls, to pick up the ballista crew at Shaitan's Dance. Without it, they haven't a prayer. With it... well, there is no time to fetch any further reinforcements before the enemy hits the walls at Serpent's Rest.

weaver preserve us
lady sky rent with piercing cries
flying on dark wings

Celestial Dragon set up their ballista halfway up the walls; the very summit does not have enough shelter from the circling ravens, from the rains of acid that have so decimated other forces. Hun Gar Strike Force and Tai Ling's Striking Serpent lurk in the Great Wall's innumerable passageways, ready to take on a climbing assault... or die as slowly as possible, in any case.

James looks out across the incoming army. There are not enough defenders. The siege-lizards might shake down the walls in any case, or rip huge chunks out with those digging claws. There are over two hundred myrmidons and nearly two hundred oni with no concern for their personal wellbeing. The Hunapha have even brought a catapult. The walls will not hold.

There is only one way this will go, and swiftly, they will not even do much damage... except. Except if...

"Open the gates."

They think he is crazy. Perhaps he is crazy. But trying to hold this position is crazy; all other options, including making a stand here, are essentially the same as giving up.

And he does not intend to start giving up now.

into the gateway
he gives them the gift of choice
takes the toll in blood

He watches the army hesitate. The great gates are open, the gates from Serpent's Rest into Desert Province Gateway, inviting them into what can only be a trap; but such an inviting trap, and what jaws could there be to close around them?

Precious little, as it happens - but it is all there is available, it will have to be enough.

The fragile-looking winged lizards sweep overhead, but there are no pistols, no longbows; Tai Ling's Striking Serpent set up barricades and deadfalls, Celestial Dragon learn devious routes between firing-places, Hung Gar Strike Force assemble crude knives to throw and rocks to drop.

The ballista takes some ranging shots, as the oni venture forwards to test the wall's defences.

Eventually, a decision seems to be made. The enemy force begins to march in earnest, flanked by gargantua, overflown by jaculi and ravens... towards the open gate. James releases a breath he didn't know that he had been holding.

With James looking out and calling targets, Celestial Dragon put a ballista bolt right through the wings of some kind of many-armed, bewinged ophidian monstrosity - is that Vadasz-Ahu, the butcher of the Rukh? - and another winged ophidian who appears to be running with a hunting cat; then the bulk of the Hunapha force are in range and it is, for a glorious moment, exactly like shooting fish in a barrel - with a ballista.

let's play hide and seek
with the deathscales and oni
into spring's embrace

They stick a few bolts into the Gargantua, who barely flinch.

Concentrating on the ordinary troops brings a much more satisfying and reliable harvest.

The doors into the Great Wall's substructure are well-barred, but there is a shuddering as the Gargantua pause; James leans out of an arrow-slit and watches as the Creche Lodges of shining facets direct the Gargantua to kick them in.

Celestial Dragon sprint through the passageway and set their ballista station up pointing inwards, but although they down many of the Creche Lodge facets - who appear to be unnaturally exhausted and too sluggish to adequately respond to the threat - the damage is already done.

They continue to fire as the Ten'Etzi Horde, that have been holding themselves somewhat apart from the others, finish the job with their bronze maces, and then stand aside for the Oni and the giant snake monsters to pour in; they continue to fire on the procession through the gate as Hung Gar Strike Force and Tai Ling's Striking Serpent prepare to distract and hold them off for as long as possible.

swaying rainbow eyes
call you to the dance of spring
drowning in their coils

Breaking away from the distraction forces, James heads back to check on Celestial Dragon; the firing of the balllista has fallen disturbingly silent.

No Oni have got this far, but a selection of the giant snake monsters have found their way to the hidden chamber. Two of them have raised themselves up to the height of a man, and unfolded a great cobra-hood, scales coruscating in waves of vivid rainbow colours. It is surprisingly hard to look away from the shockingly beautiful dance...

...especially given what is in the rest of the room, which consists of Celestial Dragon staring slack-jawed into the cobra-monsters' eyes, whilst being eaten alive by one of the other giant snake monsters.

Suddenly galvanized into action, James snatches up a sword from one of the mesmerised soldiers, and commences hacking violently at the dancing cobras; averting his eyes to avoid being drawn into their hypnotism, it's not the most accurate of attacks, but it does the job. As soon as the cobras cease to dance, those of the ballista crew who are not grievously injured draw their swords and finish the job, including the other giant snake monster.

But it is clearly too dangerous to remain within this section of the walls, and besides, the ballista is looking distinctly... chewed. The remains of Celestial Dragon - three Gnolls and four Tritoni - start to make their way through the wall away to their fallback position, fast enough without the ballista to evade the incoming forces, towards the Gentle Glades section of the wall. They are joined by one of the Hung Gar Strike Force, a Kamakuran human who thinks the others are likely all dead, and three of Tai Ling's Striking Serpent.

None of the other defenders are ever seen again; whether they were eaten by monsters, taken by myrmidons, or simply lost in the chaos, no-one will ever know.