The spear's arm broke off with a woody snap. The cavalryman climbing the wall returned to the frozen ground the short way.

"47 seven," counted Dulles, shaking his head. They had planned the whole thing properly. Well, the whole thing except the gate. They had failed to take the effect of the cold on the iron into account. Instead of overwhelming the enemy before they could respond, their lord and his elite guard became fish in a barrel.

No one was prepared to climb the walls. The plan was to go through the gate, so no one had brought anything with which to assail the stones now blocking their way. Even now the entire army only had three ropes by which to get into the city and save their lord. Of the two thousand guards that went with the duke, only half had ascended, and the rest were unwilling to make way for the other units. The duke was their responsibility and they would be damned if they let anyone else take their charge.

It took nearly two hours for more ropes to be readied. The men outside returned to their camp and brough any loose rope they could find, mainly from the sledges, and fashioned half-decent climbing ropes. Loze was chosen to lead Tigersoar's men onto the wall to relieve their lord.

They flung spears with the ropes attached into the merlons. The spears were not made to hold fully armored soldiers, however, and 47 had snapped so far. Of the six hundred who had made the climb so far, 40 returned to the ground outside.

Most frustrating was that even as Tigersoar continued to ascend valiantly, they were ordered to stand down and let Firmrock take the lead.

Furious, lose and his men disobayed and continued to climb.

"How many of our ballistae were brought up?" asked Dulles.

"Thirty-seven have been moved to the wall. More are on their way," reported a scribe, his eyes still glued to the parchment on which he scribbled notes.

"Then why haven't they started firing? I don't care that our standard comportment isn't set up yet, help out our lord!"

"We've only sent the ballistae up, Sir. Their bolts are still down here. The ballistae have nothing to shoot."


This was not looking good. They could send up 20 soldier at a time now, but it was still far from being enough, they were still slowly losing ground.

"Get the bolts up to the ballistae as quickly as possible! I don't want a single ballistae unable to fire! Keep them shooting until they fall apart! Send the 12th brigade out to get us wood to build ladders! We need to get more men--"

His orders were interrupted by the 48th spear snapping.

"Fuck me!... Hold on… Set up a few of the ballistae down here. Shot the bolts into the wall so the men can climb up using them!" Dulles yelled at a passing soldier.

Malek jogged up to Dulles.

"Most of the ropes in the camp aren't useable. They're either too thin or completely frozen in place. Heating up enough and making more ropes will take at least two more hours."

"Sir, why don't we pile up the snow and make a ramp? We have so many men just standing around we might as well put them to work," suggested the scribe.

"You might actually be on to something!" Malek yelped, "We can be on the wall in less than an hour!"

A sharp cry broke the conversation. Everyone's eyes darted to the walls just in time to see a Norton soldier flung off the wall trough a crenel, a red rope trailing behind him.

"They're on the walls already? I have to go up and help!" yelled Malek as he dashed to the wall, "Dulles! Start building the ramp!"


"It's over..." Josk murmured. He barely held out by blocking with his bow. A strike or two more would end him, however. He could not match a blademaster's battleforce.

The blademaster rapidly closed the remaining distance. If this archer fell, he pretty much already had the walls.

A golden sheened spear suddenly flew at him. He had to choose, kill the archer, and be injured, or protect himself, and let the archer get away. He chose the latter. He withdrew his sword and cut the incoming spear in half. Josk retreated ten meters and drew his bow again. Just as he was about to unleash his shot, Loze stepped in his way and clashed with the blademaster. Loze could not win the fight either, but he could hold the old man back for a few moments. The addition of an archer that could strike at any moment, those few moments could be extended a little further.

No one disputed Loze's place at the top of the house's 16 gold-ranked knights. Even Potterfang, who was the best of them all at defense, could only fight Loze to a draw. Lorist was also convinced he would be the first of them to become a blademaster, probably sometime in the next three years. He had the experience and the technique, he just lacked the inspiration necessary to make the final breakthrough.

The enemy blademaster must be one of the two that had only recently broken though. While his technique was fierce, it lacked proper control. Loze suffered two light cuts in the first couple of exchanges, but quickly caught on to his opponent's style and now fought on equal footing. With Josk drawing some of the blademaster's attention, the man was actually fighting an uphill battle.

The stairs were lost. The enemy mercenaries bubbled onto the wall non-stop and were pushing the Nortons back further and further with every passing minute. Tigersoar's men were constantly pouring onto the walls, though, and helped to keep the enemy back relatively well. The corpses lay so thick on the wall that with each new death an older corpse was pushed off the wall. The corpses were beginning to form a small ramp to the wall's city-side.

The elite trio's fight took place near the gate. The blademaster was frustrated by his current predicament. He'd come to kill the pesky archer, not to fight two-on-one. This was supposed to be a quick clearing of the walls. Now, however, though he was confident of his eventual victory, he didn't know how long it would take to tire his opponents out and finally kill them.

Several dozen soldiers rushed over to help, only to be cut down by Josk. This volley pushed him to his limit, however; he was temporarily out of the fight while he caught his breath. Lorist was in a similar state down by the gate. Though he was uninjured at present, he leaned against the wall and heaved as his men fought around him. Of the two hundred who had started this mission with him, only fifty were left. Worridge himself, while still alive, was badly hurt.

Of Wessia's four 10 thousand strong divisions and its five thousand strong logistics division, one had been sent to clear the enemy out of the city. The other three were probably each at another gate. Reidy and Shuss had once again started pushing long the walls to relieve some of the pressure on Lorist and his unit, so the guild couldn't mobilize their other divisions yet.

Damn this metal gate! Lorist cursed silently.

How could he let such a brilliant plan collapse so miserably? He'd killed thousands already, but thousands were still standing in line for their turn at trying to kill him… His saving grace was that the slum streets didn't let the enemy make use of their numbers. Otherwise, he'd have been a frozen corpse for an hour by now.

Another horn blasted through the sounds of fighting echoing back and forth between the city walls. Another three-hundred-man formation was attacking. His side was down to just fifty by comparison, and they were only a quarter of the way to opening the gate. Of the four hinges, only one was loose. They could not survive this next fight without serious reinforcement, and there was no sign of them getting it anytime soon. Lorist could still fight his way to the top of the wall and make it out safely, sure, but he would be leaving his dearest, most able men to die. As much as Lorist could let himself die, or worse, be captured, he couldn't bring himself to abandon his men either. The last attack's defeat had confirmed his blademaster abilities to the enemy, and they were now using appropriate tactics. His exhaustion aside, this fight was going to far harder than any he had fought so far...

Malek made it to the top of the wall. After surveying the situation briefly, he charged to his men. His addition boosted their morale and their slow retreat stopped. He fought there for a few minutes to stabilize the situation before heading for Loze and Josk. The blademaster panicked when he saw yet another gold-rank coming to join the fray. If he didn't leave immediately, he would be done for. He could still win against two gold-ranks by simply outlasting them, but his cultivation had yet to stabilize enough to fight three.

He swung his blade at Loze with all his strength. Loze was flung off balance and exposed his chest. Three golden-tipped arrows charged in at that moment, however, and forced the blademaster to retreat. Despite that, however, the blademaster sighed relievedly. All three arrows the archer had in his hands had been fired so he had a moment in which he need only worry about two opponents. He could now escape without--


He suddenly felt something cold thrust into his chest. He looked down and saw the shaft of an arrow dancing back and forth in the air, the tip vanishing through his clothing into his torso.

"How... How? There... were four..."

"Damn it, Joe! You stole my kill!" cried Loze.

Josk collapsed onto the cold stone of the wall, slumping against the crenellations. His arms had no strength left in them. Even his jaw and tongue refused to obey his will.

Malek's sword fell, and, with it, fell the blademaster's head.

"Quick, bring the steel ballistae!" he yelled down the length of the wall.