Seven hundred warriors.

It is like a horde out of legend, glistening in red and blue, sweeping hungrily across the land.

Sure, to Mr Dandy and Malevolence, with their memories of the armies of the Known World, it's scarcely a decent-sized squadron; but at least it's actually a decent sized squadron for once. And the single-minded, instinctively warlike myrmidons - scarcely out of the breeding chambers and already the match of any ordinary soldier - are like nothing the Known World had to offer.

There is no sensible way to conceal the approach of so many warriors, so you don't even try. Let the Havocstanis line up on their fortified walls. It will only make it sweeter when the slaughter birds - who you have concealed somewhat, having them carried with the troops rather than letting them follow above in an obvious fashion - tear them apart. The Azure Horde flows forth, a ravenous force of nature also concealing five fine Earthquake Beetles - your ticket into the Port Havoc fortifications - and passes into the trees that seem to be everywhere in the Port Havoc area.

Up on the Port Havoc Outer Defences, you can see a flurry of activity. Tritoni hunters, Gerosan wemic crossbow troops, Gnollish siege engineers all jostle for space and begin to fire off ranging shots at the approaching carpet of myrmidons. Captain Perez Mendoza and Rosario Lopez set up an arbalest, just one among many arbalests and ballistae lined up along the walls.

Sharlindra urges the Horde onwards, faster. They pick up into a charge, into a sprint, into the range of the ballistae and arbalests, into the carefully cleared killing zone beneath the walls. And Quetzli gives the signal, as the front-runners begin to come under arrow fire, to release the slaughter birds.

It is clear, even from this distance, that the Havocstani forces - and the rather large quantity of Rukh they appear to have with them, more than doubling their numbers of bowmen and ballistae - were not expecting the slaughter birds. Pistoleers rush up from their position further down the walls to fend them off; but despite the piles of broken black-feathered bodies that build up around the walls, the defenders obviously feel that being out in the open is now a losing proposition, and they begin to hurriedly take down what siege weapons have not been torn and scarred by sharp talons and hard beaks.

About time to deploy the Earthquake Beetles against the main gates, then. The enormous, heavy creatures crash heavily against the metal-barred gates, not even breaking their stride from the charge; the doors tremble, but do not break. Lining up for a second charge, sloughing their protective covering of myrmidons from their glistening backs, the ground shakes with their footfalls; there is a terrible splintering sound, and huge cracks yawn in the great doors. With the defenders withdrawn to the inner fortifications, they have the luxury of a third charge, and a fourth, and a fifth; even the entryway of the fortified walls is immensely strong, but eventually the doors burst inwards, their component parts clattering to the ground, and the horde surges in.

The bowmen and siege engineers have set up again, in the great fortress of Port Havoc - the Kennell itself. The last redoubt of Havoc's Dogs, it bristles with arrow-slits and firing platforms much better insulated from the depredations of slaughter birds; there are precious few of the creatures left to throw at them in any case. The myrmidons of the Horde die in droves, but without hesitation their companions run full-tilt over the corpses of the dead; there are no morale problems here, no hesitation or distress, just their orders and the charge. They throw themselves back atop the earthquake beetles and defend the precious creatures with their bodies from the onslaught of arrows and bolts and, as they get closer, pistol fire.

Meanwhile, Mr Dandy becomes distracted for a moment - on a high balcony of the fortress, some great draconic beast has appeared! There are a few myrmidons who have been entrusted with a ballista, but after a single shot it becomes clear that not one of them knows how to reload the device, so he looks up and takes aim with a flintlock in one hand and a double-barrelled flintlock in the other.

The creature is making right for him, and now he can see Dram Farraday and Piper Green on its back, armed with flamethrowers, and the Gerosan girl Isabella La Buscona clinging determinedly to its tail. Dram Farraday is clearly wearing gothic plate, so he takes his shots at Piper Green and the beast itself, both of which start bleeding in a most satisfying fashion. He lopes forwards a few paces to be well ensconced within a unit of eager myrmidons, but the stupid creatures flee in terror as the two flamethrowers open up to scorch the ground; one of them he grabs long enough to use as cover, then discards its burnt remains and draws his sword and shield, knowing there is no time to reload.

He knows that he is distinctly outclassed as a swordsman by these two; opening his mouth to begin taunting them, he suddenly notices Isabella again, this time with her hand outstretched and the power of the Athlete flowing through her, stealing his voice away. Enraged, he lunges for her, but Piper and Dram are right there to take advantage of the opening. Despite his heavy armour, their spatha blows make short work of both armour and form. His perception is fading as Dram methodically dismembers him, but it looks like Isabella is desperately tending to Piper's wounds while she keeps the myrmidon horde at bay with her flamethrower, and none of them have noticed Malevolence advancing on their position...

Malevolence takes his time; he does not want to waste the advantage of surprise too quickly. Once Dram has finished dispatching Mr Dandy, the three of them climb back aboard their mount, which attempts to kick off the ground into a great leap back to the walls; he lets them just lift from the ground, perhaps to think they have escaped, before dropping the mount out of its stride with a powerful incantation.

The creature falls to the ground in a tangle of claws and wings, dreadfully injured, and the myrmidons move in as the riders attempt to disentangle themselves and pick up their flamethrowers. Striding forwards, Malevolence knocks Isabella to the ground with another incantation as she tries to regain her feet; Dram manages to pick himself up and engage the demon before the chivalric axe he wields with such skill comes down on the Gerosan's head, interposing his shield which gives off a shower of sparks at the force of the blow.

Piper gets her flamethrower into action, trying to keep the myrmidon horde away from the fight. Malevolence dodges backwards and calls out another incantation, sending Dram's spatha spinning away from his grasp. He tries to turn and pick up his weapon, but the myrmidon forces have already carried it off. Dropping the dragon cannon's mouth, Piper draws her own spatha and joins the fray.

Someone is still using the flamethrower. As Piper's wounds bleed freely, Isabella - her blood all over his hands, she must have been staunching her - snatches up the flamethrower nozzle and desperately fires into the crowd.

Malevolence steps forwards and ensures that Dram is thoroughly parted from his spatha by the ebb and flow of battle; concentrating on Piper, whose mobility is limited by Isabella's desperate grasp on her flamethrower and whose movements are growing weaker by the second, he presses the advantage. Their souls will be an excellent addition to his collection...

...and as he is thinking this, he notices a strange ripple in the myrmidon lines, just in time to look up and see another of the draconic creatures bearing down on him. Firmly on the ground, Kirill rides to Dram and Piper's rescue at the head of a wedge packed with Gnolls and Rukh, with some of Hive Unity's distinctive silver and green myrmidons and a smattering of Free Islanders along the flanks.

Despite the press of the Azure Horde around them, the myrmidons cannot close ranks fast enough to save Malevolence from a swift discorporation as the Murabi Pistoleers all fire at once.

The flying wedge now attempts to turn and make its way back to the fortress, but it is beset on all sides; the myrmidons of the Horde are following it eagerly, not even deterred by the occasional flamethrower burst and Kirill's draconic breath, as they know it will have to re-enter the fortification somehow - and that could be their chance to follow it and penetrate the walls, as the earthquake beetles appear to be having much less success with the incredibly heavy fortress doors. The draconic creature bounds ahead and makes a spectacular leap out of the wedge, clambering over a balcony to deposit the heavily injured Dram, Piper and Isabella where they can access medical aid, but the rest of the wedge cannot be so easily rescued.

Kirill appears to come to some decision, and pulls the wedge around from its original course; now he is aiming straight for the main doors, where the earthquake beetles are repeatedly charging. As the Havocstani soldiers run straight over their backs, the earthquake beetles discover they are charging into empty space... an empty space which is rapidly filled with spears and pistol fire as the soldiers carry on through the waiting forces into the depths of the fortress.

Sharlindra wastes no time in ensuring that enough myrmidons have jammed themselves against the great doors that they cannot be closed; Charles wades forwards through the killing zone to break the line of human spearmen that are holding back the myrmidon advance, knocking aside Kamakurans, Malathians and Mill'enese alike with great sweeps of his halberd, using the troops as cover.

As the disarray intensifies, Quetzli ventures inwards, his two tame hunting cats at his side, and a very special bundle writhing in his arms and stacked atop their lithe bodies. Keeping in the centre of the formation, he begins to methodically pick the camouflaged, almost invisible stinger snakes up and throw them hard into the Havocstani lines, where they immediately begin to paralyse victims and cause a delightful panic.

Sharlindra herself ducks through the great doors and cackles with glee, the laughter turning seamlessly into an incantation which paralyses a strong and heavily armoured mokosh swordsman - Al'berto of the Wolves of Santiago - as he struggles to keep the Havocstani line from collapsing.

However...

Then she looks behind her, and realises that despite seven hundred seeming like an almost infinite quantity of myrmidon warriors, it was - alarmingly - beginning to run out. And the Havoc forces were showing no sign of falling back en masse; rallied by Francesca Santiago's spirited defence of her paralysed comrade, they also seemed to have infinite numbers, shored up by the presence of astonishingly large numbers of Rukhi reinforcements.

Catching her mood, Charles and Quetzli quietly begin to withdraw from the front lines of the engagement.

Outside, the rain of bolts and arrows continued unabated, and their cover was looking very slim indeed. Quetzli and Charles looked at each other - it was obvious that shortly one of them was going to have to take a bolt for Sharlindra.

Up on the walls, a certain arbalest piloted by the Gerosan Captain Perez Mendoza took careful aim, and planted the first bolt right in Sharlindra's chest, faster than her bodyguard could react.

There was suddenly no doubt in their minds; picking up their Queen bodily, they sprinted for the splintered gatehouse, arrows raining down all around them.

With no sign of Malevolence or Mr Dandy returning yet, there was nothing left but to quietly leave the gates behind them - thankful for the shelter of the fortified wall from the Havocstan force that had comprehensively bested them - and slink off back into the south. Leaving every single myrmidon warrior in the Horde, and even Quetzli's precious hunting cats - felled in that last desperate retreat - to their no doubt grisly fate.

The only question remaining was - where did they get all those Rukh from? Without those, Sharlindra was sure they would be telling a very different story.

And why on earth were those damnable Rukh wearing the symbol of Benedict Delano?

---

The end of the world comes, at last, to Havocstan.

It is like a horde out of legend, glistening in red and blue, sweeping hungrily across the land. The great Queen Sharlindra of the Azure Collective walks beside the infamous Mr Dandy and the demon Malevolence, bringing slaughter birds and earthquake beetles and hunting cats, great spike-tailed lizards and lithe hunting cats the size of three men...

...and Isabella La Buscona destroys the demon Malevolence in personal combat, after Piper Green and Dram Farraday both fall to its terrible strength; and Kirill of the White Wolves parades the head of Mr Dandy around on the horn of a giant lizard he has tamed with his own hands...

...and Havocstan stands firm against the tide, destroying the myrmidon hordes utterly against the walls of Port Havoc.

---

A carpet of myrmidons, glistening in red and blue, sweeping hungrily across the land.

Seven hundred warriors; not counting, of course, the five lumbering earthquake beetles, or the queen of the hive, Sharlindra, and her two bodyguards Charles and Quetzli, and the two hunting cats stalking alongside Quetzli.

There is no sensible way to conceal the approach of so many warriors, so they aren't even trying.

The call goes out. Dram Farraday scours the enemy force for any sign of ranged capabilities - the bugs are dragging along one ballista, but there's no serious number of siege engines or bowmen, or any sign of the Jaculi's delicate fluttering reptilian wings, so he lets the bowmen and crossbowmen and siege engineers set up on the Port Havoc Outer Defences. Then he calls over Ardit Gerth, and points out the Earthquake Beetles.

Ardit Gerth looks through Dram's telescope at the huge beetles, in a skeptical fashion. He examines the structure of their heads, the trunk-like legs, the ambling pace, the hardened shells. Then he thinks for a moment, and makes his pronouncement: they're probably as good as an iron-shod ram, from what little he can see of their composition from this elevation. No match for the fortress walls, and they'll have a heck of a time getting through the actual wall sections of the fortified wall, but they might mess up the gatehouse more easily - and he can't be certain that the fortress doors will hold.

The myrmidon advance sweeps in from the woods, accelerating as they hit the stretch of cleared land just outside the walls. The earthquake beetles lumber along rather more slowly, but the surrounding myrmidons resolutely pile on top of them - neatly shielding them from incoming bolts with their own bodies.

Just as the myrmidons are getting within bowshot, a great cloud of dark wings erupts from the edge of the forest. Giant ravens, with cruel hooked beaks and sharp talons, rise swiftly into the air and swoop down on the archers and siege engineers conveniently lined up along the walls. Captain Perez Mendoza, up on the walls with his arbalest, takes out a couple on their way in, but Rosario Lopez tells him to concentrate on the myrmidons as she starts firing into the air with a pair of highbore pistols.

Whilst the Gerosan crossbow troops adapt seamlessly to these new targets, the Rukhi bowmen are flustered and begin to run around in a terrible panic, attempting to get below the parapet and into cover; claws slash, beaks tear, and Rukhi siege engineers trip over Rukhi pistoleers as the latter charge up the walkways from their lower position to shoot into the mass of attacking creatures. The Imperial Archers and the Hunters keep it together a little better, although the Praetorian Siege Engineers watch their arbalest tumble over the edge of the wall as it is mobbed by the huge black birds.

Gradually, the massed pistol fire makes inroads into the foul raven swarm, and black bodies rain down from the sky until the last few birds are dropped by the skilled and disciplined Gerosan crossbow wemics. There is no way of knowing if there is another wave of these creatures hidden amongst the myrmidons like the first, however. Already several Rukhi pistoleers and bowmen have been torn apart, and a dozen Gerosans have calmly and professionally bled out where they stand.

Rosario calmly begins to pack away the siege equipment for movement as Captain Perez organises the forces into an orderly retreat; the earthquake beetles are almost at the gates of the fortified wall in any case. It will be more awkward to shoot from within the fortress, but at least there will be more cover there.

Meanwhile, on the fortress walls, Piper spots a pair of suspicious, non-myrmidon figures coming out of the forest with the myrmidon forces. Borrowing Dram's telescope, she swiftly identifies them - surprise surprise, it's Mr Dandy - and a humanoid figure in a fully enclosed suit of armour accompanying him, which moves an awful lot like the demon Malevolence...

The gatehouse of the Port Havoc Outer Defences visibly trembles as the heavy earthquake beetles crash against the metal-barred gates, not even breaking their stride from the charge; the doors tremble, but do not break. Lining up for a second charge, the ground shakes with their footfalls; there is a terrible splintering sound, and huge cracks yawn in the great doors. With the defenders withdrawn to the inner fortifications, they have the luxury of a third charge, and a fourth, and a fifth; even the entryway of the fortified walls is immensely strong, but eventually the doors burst inwards, their component parts clattering to the ground, and the horde surges in.

The bowmen and siege engineers have set up again, in the great fortress of Port Havoc - the Kennell itself. The last redoubt of Havoc's Dogs, it bristles with arrow-slits and firing platforms much better insulated from the depredations of slaughter birds. The myrmidons of the Horde die in droves, but without hesitation their companions run full-tilt over the corpses of the dead.

Francesca Santiago assesses the situation quickly, and begins to call over the soldiers who have yet to engage due to their lack of ranged capabilities. Recalling Ardit's reassurances about the fortress walls, she brings them down into the killing zone just behind the main doors, and begins to arrange the main line of defence for the fortress interior.

Up on the tower, watching the demon and the abomination approach, Piper argues determinedly that there is no way that they can let the pair of them reach the ordinary soldiers. It is one thing to expect their troops to fight and die for the country, and quite another to have them face soul-eating abominations. She just isn't sure how she can get over there, amongst the hundreds of myrmidon warriors, to face them down herself - knowing that her own soul is quite safe.

Dram Farraday draws the statue from a pouch. Holding it forth, they watch it burst into glorious life; a great winged and clawed lizard, calling out its defiance to the myrmidons amassed below. With steely determination, he insists that he will have to accompany Piper; while his own soul is not protected, he does not rate her chances on her own and he does not fear destruction when the alternative is that the same might happen to one - or many - of those under his command.

It is then that Isabella, who had been watching them from the doorway, steps forwards. She insists that if they are going to fight a powerful necromancer and a powerful demon, they ought to have someone with them who can shut them up; and when Dram insists that he can do that, she indicates his flamethrower, shield and spatha and notes that he will probably be far too busy to stop and free up a hand for an incantation. Also, she continues, she can staunch the wounds that someone will inevitably take in the process, giving them more time to get back to safety; and as for herself, well, she's always been too stubborn to die.

As the myrmidon horde begin to reach the fortress walls and pile up around the earthquake beetles as a bulwark against incoming fire, the divine lizard spreads its wings and leaps from the tower, gliding down to deliver its determined payload to the feet of the abomination Dandy. The ballista held by the myrmidon forces takes one shot into the air at the creature, but it goes wide; Mr Dandy himself is not unarmed, however, and waits for it to come into range before unloading the double-barreled flintlock in his left hand into the divine mount and the single-barreled flintlock in his right hand into Piper Green.

Undeterred, although now bleeding freely, Piper scorches the ground with her flamethrower as they land, Dram doing the same on his side; the flames drive back the myrmidon forces for a moment. As Mr Dandy prepares to cast some terrible incantation, Isabella gestures dramatically at him and calls upon the power of the Athlete; it surges through her and flies towards him, preventing him from either casting or carrying on his usual taunting litany of what he intends to do to his victims. The removal of his voice seems to enrage him beyond reason; he lunges out with sword and shield for Isabella, neglecting the two heavily armed combatants either side of him, who drop their flamethrowers a moment to take advantage of the opening and clobber him with their spathas.

Despite his heavy armour, the expert sword blows of Dram and Piper make short work of the foul creature. Piper raises her spatha again to begin his execution, but is interrupted by Isabella ducking behind her and suggesting that she might want to open fire on the encroaching myrmidons again; apparently using a flamethrower will be less strenuous than hacking Dandy to pieces, and Isabella would like to keep her from bleeding to death quite yet. Dram takes over the execution, as Piper keeps the myrmidons at bay; with no sign of their other target, they climb aboard the lizard of the Basilisk again, intending to get a little height and see if they can pick him out.

The lizard has just begun to leap into the air when a powerful incantation crackles through the air; it catches the lizard hard in the side and sends all four of them tumbling to the ground in a tangle of claws and wings and flamethrower attachments. Striding forwards, Malevolence knocks Isabella to the ground with another incantation as she tries to regain her feet; Dram manages to pick himself up and engage the demon before the chivalric axe he wields with such skill comes down on the Gerosan's head, interposing his shield which gives off a shower of sparks at the force of the blow.

Piper gets her flamethrower into action, but glances nervously back at the duel developing between Dram and Malevolance; he's no slouch with that spatha, but alone he is unlikely to be a match for the heavily armoured, incredibly strong demon. As she watches anxiously, trying to keep the myrmidon horde away from the renewed fight and let Isabella keep her from dying, Malevolence dodges backwards and calls out another incantation, sending Dram's spatha spinning away from his grasp. He tries to turn and pick up his weapon, but the myrmidon forces have already carried it off. Dropping the dragon cannon's mouth, Piper draws her own spatha and joins the fray.

Someone is still using the flamethrower. As Piper's wounds bleed freely, Isabella - with blood all over her hands from the staunching so far - snatches up the flamethrower nozzle and desperately fires into the crowd.

Malevolence steps forwards and ensures that Dram is thoroughly parted from his spatha by the ebb and flow of battle; concentrating on Piper, whose mobility is limited by Isabella's desperate grasp on her flamethrower and whose movements are growing weaker by the second, he presses the advantage...

...and as it looks like he is gaining ground, there is a strange ripple in the myrmidon lines, which open up to reveal another of the draconic creatures bearing down on him. Firmly on the ground, Kirill rides to Dram and Piper's rescue at the head of a wedge packed with Gnolls and Rukh, with some of Hive Unity's distinctive silver and green myrmidons - some of the very same warriors who fought against them at Freeport, now determined to demonstrate their newfound loyalty to the Confederacy - and a smattering of Free Islanders along the flanks.

Despite the press of the Azure Horde around them, the myrmidons cannot close ranks fast enough to save Malevolence from a swift discorporation as the Murabi Pistoleers all fire at once.

The flying wedge now attempts to turn and make its way back to the fortress, but it is beset on all sides; the myrmidons of the Horde are following it eagerly, not even deterred by the occasional flamethrower burst, as they know it will have to re-enter the fortification somehow. Kirill's divine mount, now no longer carrying Kirill, bounds ahead and makes a spectacular leap out of the wedge - reaching out to grab a foothold, it clambers over a balcony to deposit the heavily injured Dram, Piper and Isabella.

Emile Bechet emerges from the interior, wearily, to help carry them down to the forward infirmary; he has been ferrying the injured and attempting to keep them alive for long enough to recover or to be seen by a surgeon. The best human medic available turns out to be Vanderburch, of Hive Unity, who looks like he has been doing quite a lot of surgery today; their hive administrator Morgan De Rik is also on hand in the infirmary to repair their armour with sorcery, which he does simultaneously with the surgery in a slightly unnerving fashion.

Kirill makes a quick assessment of the likely consequences of letting the horde anywhere near a sally port, and pulls the wedge around from its original course; now he is aiming straight for the main doors, where the earthquake beetles are repeatedly charging. As the Havocstani soldiers run straight over their backs, the earthquake beetles discover they are charging into empty space... an empty space which is rapidly filled with spears and pistol fire as the incoming soldiers carry on through the waiting forces into the depths of the fortress.

Sharlindra wastes no time in ensuring that enough myrmidons have jammed themselves against the great doors that they cannot be closed; her minion Charles wades forwards through the killing zone to break the line of human spearmen that are holding back the myrmidon advance, knocking aside Kamakurans, Malathians and Mill'enese alike with great sweeps of his halberd, using the other myrmidon troops as cover from the pistoleers that Francesca is leading into the area to make up the back ranks.

Then the other bodyguard of Sharlindra, Quetzli, his two tame hunting cats at his side, begins to methodically pick some kind of writhing, squirming mass from himself and his cats and throw it hard into the Havocstani lines. The near-invisible creatures take on the colours of anything they find themselves against, and appear to have both fangs and scorpion-like stingers; those bitten by the snakes are immediately paralysed, making the conflict much more chaotic.

Al'berto of the Wolves of Santiago stands forwards, anchoring the line in his heavy armour with his gleaming two-handed sword, keeping the Havocstani and Gerosan troops from routing. They are just about holding together, when Sharlindra herself ducks through the great doors and cackles with glee, the laughter turning seamlessly into an incantation which paralyses Al'berto where he stands.

However...

Then she looks behind her, and realises that - despite seven hundred seeming like an almost infinite quantity of myrmidon warriors - her forces were beginning to thin down significantly. And the Havoc forces were showing no sign of falling back en masse; rallied by Francesca Santiago's spirited defence of her paralysed comrade, they also seemed to have infinite numbers, shored up by the presence of astonishingly large numbers of Rukhi reinforcements.

Catching her mood, Charles and Quetzli quietly begin to withdraw from the front lines of the engagement.

Outside, the rain of bolts and arrows continued unabated, and their cover was looking very slim indeed. Up on the walls, a certain arbalest piloted by the Gerosan Captain Perez Mendoza took careful aim, and planted the first bolt right in Sharlindra's chest, faster than her bodyguards could react.

There was suddenly no doubt in their minds; picking up their Queen bodily, they sprinted for the splintered gatehouse, arrows raining down all around them.

With no sign of Malevolance or Mr Dandy returning yet, there were many more myrmidons still to hack their way through, but the spirit of the Azure Horde was broken, and soon so were the bodies.

As everyone stands down, and begins to count the dead, there are some further complications; those who have been stung by the scorpion stingers on the near-invisible stinger snakes are gradually falling ill. Further inspection reveals that the flesh around the wound is putrefying, not in the vivid colours of ophidian poisoning but with a sickly yellowish weeping that does not look like any known poison. Despite all efforts to investigate and deal with the poisoning, it gradually progresses until the unfortunate victims rot from the inside out, in an invariably fatal and extremely painful fashion.

Even with these, the final death toll barely tops a hundred and twenty, a good half of which are Rukhi or Hive Unity casualties. Whilst all losses are duly mourned, it is nevertheless an impressive result against a force of mymridons that outnumbered the defenders (if only just) and was supported by such vicious native creatures, not to mention the powerful demon Malevolence and Mr Dandy himself!

Very politely, Hive Unity request permission to clear away the large drift of myrmidon bodies that has accumulated against the walls. You can see the calculation in Morgan De Rik's eyes as he works out how many more breeding chambers they would have to build to accommodate them…

---

Seven hundred warriors.

It is like a horde out of legend, glistening in red and blue, sweeping hungrily across the land.

The Azure Collective finally show their true colours. They march openly into the lands of Havocstan with their queen Sharlindra and her trusted minions Quetzli and Charles walking alongside the infamous Mr Dandy and the demon Malevolence. And with them they bring slaughter birds, and earthquake beetles, and hunting cats, and an insidious nest of stinger snakes.

And Havocstan stands firm on the walls of Port Havoc.

Bolstered by much-needed reinforcements from the Rukhi diaspora, sent by Benedict Delano - which double the number of defenders - and supported by the Hive Unity veterans that fought against them at Freeport, they stand.

Piper Green, Dram Farraday and Isabella La Buscona make a daring sortie into enemy lines to ensure that Mr Dandy and the demon Malevolence are put down before they can close with the ordinary troops and steal the souls of the dying; despite the aid of the Basilisk in the form of a divine winged lizard that Dram rides into battle, they almost perish in the attempt. They are only saved by Kirill, on a second great lizard, bringing a flying wedge of daring Rukh, determined Hive Unity myrmidons and the Murabi Pistoleers out of the fortress to rescue them.

Emile Bechet works tirelessly to drag the wounded from the lines, as Captain Perez Mendoza and Rosario Lopez decimate the myrmidon forces with their arbalest and Francesca Santiago co-ordinates the Gerosan troops with the shining example of Al'berto to inspire them, and Ardit Gerth gives invaluable advice on the enemy's siege capabilities.

Despite all the odds stacked against them, and some disappointing final casualties from some kind of rare and apparently untreatable poison, Havocstan and its allies lose only a hundred and twenty, and slaughter every last myrmidon and monster in the horde.