So I have no choice but to use my slaughter domain, thought Lorist as watched the three 100-man-formations approach. The two towers on the walls could support him no longer. Not only were their ballistae firing slower and slower, the bolts were flying all over the place. They could risk hitting their own men, so they were forced to stop.

The last volley was when the formations were about 60 meters from him, but only a single bolt hit someone. One of the other bolts hit a building next to the street, the other flew over at least eight-tenths of the entire formation. Someone cried soon after, though whether this was from shock or pain, no one knew. The third, and final, bolt, punctured the ground in front of his feet, blasting away a bodiless head. The shots were becoming too unreliable and unpredictable; they were as much a threat to Lorist now as they were to the enemy -- a good time to stop.

"Worridge! Withdraw with the injured when I make my move!"

The battle was souring quickly. Of the two possible escape routes, only one was still reasonably open. The tower to the right of the wall was swarming with enemies, still fighting his men somewhere inside. The tower to the left was relatively quiet, the enemy had taken it, but at severe cost, they would be easy to kill off with the fifty men currently by the gate. What was going on atop the walls was unknown to Lorist, nor did he particularly care right now. His first priority was getting his men down below up top. Whatever waited for them there could not be worse than being cut off from any possible escape down below. He would use his slaughter domain to keep the enemy at bay and buy time for Worridge and the others to make it to the wall.

"We can't just leave Your Grace behind. It is our sworn duty to protect you, not the other way around." Worridge protested.

"Now is not the time. Go!"

The enemy closed with every breath they wasted. The marching coffins approached at a constant, rhythmic pace, each step ringing like a funeral drum. Lorist could not hope for them to make the same mistake the first group had. They would not let him get into their formation again. He clasped his sword, the veins on his hands and arms bulging. He had to get in close to his enemies. As powerful as his domain was, it only stretched five meters away from him, his enemy. His enemy could strike at him from three meters away, no more. At least a few men in their first two lines had to enter his domain.

"Fire!" he yelled.

Three shaft flew overhead and slammed into the enemy formation at random. While they could not strike the enemy accurately anymore, the ballista could at least still hit someone somewhere in a formation of this size at this distance. The formation broke up momentarily. Lorist closed his eyes. He could hear Worrdige's cheers behind. Three more shafts whizzed by, the drums struck three times, and the choir began their lamentations.

Ballistae deserved their reputation as the deadliest weapons on the continent. Each, in peak condition, could fire ten times a minute, strike accurately, and hit further than anything else. They weren't omnipotent on the battlefield, but in tight, urban corners like this, and facing an unprepared enemy, they were the bringers of death. Sometimes just knowing the enemy had ballistae would make men and commanders alike think twice.

The enemy's counterattack was doomed the moment the ballistae on the walls were set up. The fight might truly have been lost had Malek not forced his way onto the wall with his ballistae. Few, if any, of Lorist's personal guard would have made it out alive, much less in a state still able to fight. Fiercetiger Loze was the best offensive gold-ranked knight in the household, Potterfang an unmovable mountain, he'd even been named after his legion, Firmrock Potterfang. Malek could not hold a candle to them in a fight, but give him a legion and an objective, and none could compare. Where the first two were born fighters, Malek was a born leader. None could notice or make use of opportunities like him.

He had a background in the military and many called him Old Ironface. It took a lot to solicit an expression from him. If he frowned, the legion was likely about to be wiped out. He'd even ordered the slaughter of several thousand civilians during the Edelise revolts in Sidgler without batting an eye. That particular incident changed his nickname to Ironface Bloodhands. Lorist had done his best to silence the name, though it was still whispered in unsavory tavern corners and dark alleyways.

Malek's first actions once he assailed the walls were to push the enemy back and stabilize his position on the wall. He then helped Loze and Josk finish off the blademaster before finally finishing the ballistae setup. These ballistae were from House Norton, the ones usually mounted on chariots. This meant that they were light enough to be hauled up the wall, but also meant they couldn't readily be set up. Since they were designed to use the chariots as stabilizing platforms, they weren't stable when standing on their own on the stone walkway. The men fist had to fashion makeshift platforms to which to attach them. This however, would take too long. Malek'd solution was to have men lay beneath the ballistae, hugging them, to act as makeshift platforms. While the ballistae weren't as stable, and thus as accurate, as one might want, it was good enough. The human platforms suffered moderate bruising, a few cracked a rib or two, but nothing too bad.

These new weapons quickly cleared up the walls and then turned their attention to the streets below. Loze lead a group to retake the left tower and the steps within, while Josk joined the defense of the right tower. Everyone else was put to work getting more ballistae on the walls and hauling up more ammunition. Dozens of ballistae soon lined the walls and rained death down on the streets below.

Lorist opened his eyes to find himself standing on the edge of a forest. Bloody roots strangled the paved ground and thin, metal stems grew from them to about shoulder height, where they bloomed into metal leaves. The wind howled mournfully around the building and through the forest, carrying with it the dying echoes of moans and whines.

Those on the other side of the forest quickly surrendered when the blademaster's head was hung on the gate to cook over the fire. They were disarmed and quickly put to work cleaning the area of the dead and dying. Soon the forest turned into a mountain range.

"I apologize for being late, Your Grace," Malek whispered as he and Loze saluted.

Lorist waved his hand dismissively.

"Worry about apologies later, the city is yet ours. First is this gate," he said, glaring at the stubborn mass of iron. "Oh, also, how's Reidy, Els, and Shuss doing? Reinforce them as soon as you can."

The final snow bricks were laid in place the same moment the last hinge gave way.

"You're kidding me!" Dulles screamed as he collapsed into the ramp, his mouth almost foaming.

The outer wall, and with it the northern district, fell. Elsewhere in the city, however, the horns continued to blare. Barricades were quickly taking shape on the outer wall near the edge of the sectors and in front of the gates between the sectors. The citizens were also chased out of key buildings, which were then turned into makeshift forts. The first responders got word out of the situation and some particulars of their enemies before their defeat so the entire city knew what and who it was up against. The next wave set out prepared.

Dulles and Loze pushed further into the district twice before the second wave arrived, after some fighting their position stabilized about two streets in. They couldn't press any further because the entire district was set alight as the enemy withdrew.

"We'll hold for now. Evacuate the civilians first, move them outside the city and build them some temporary housing. Wessia burns them without a thought because they don't consider them Union citizens. We cannot show them the same disdain, they are imperial subjects even if only former." Lorist ordered.

Reidy, Els, and Shuss returned soon after. Lorist's two disciples had taken the entire outer wall up to the northern district's edge. They couldn't push any further since the enemy was prepared and halted them were the inner walls that separate the district meet the outer wall. The alert Lorist had heard earlier was thanks to a soldier stepping out onto the wall to take a leak on the other side of the tower. He returned to find his comrades dead and sounded the alarm before he could be killed.

Shuss did not manage to push all the way to the dividing wall to the east. He didn't make progress as quickly as the two disciples, and was exposed by the alarm. After that, he clashed with the garrison soldiers of Wessia single-handedly to defend the tower. He made it to within the last two towers, but was halted by two gold-ranked knights. When he tried to push through the other side of the tower once the two were dead, he realized it had been sealed from the other side. The enemy tried several tactics to force him out, but he held until he received the order to withdraw.

Reidy and Els had quite a few stories to tell. Reidy killed a rank 1 blademaster. The poor fool underestimated the youth thanks to his blade glow and was bisected after a few bouts. When he stepped out of the tower on the other end, however, he was showered with arrows. He avoided most, but his shoulder and right buttock each caught one.

On the 31st day of the 1st month, Year 1787, House Norton launched a surprise attack on Frederika and conquered the northern quarter of the city's walls. The local nobility, from the Union's Wessia merchant guild suffered heavy casualties, among them two rank 1 blademasters and a number of gold-ranked knights. The heavy troops they sent in to clear out the enemy were all but decimated. In a desperate, last-ditch effort to hold the invaders back until they could properly prepare, they set fire to the entire district. It burned for three days and smoldered for at least a dozen more. No one knows exactly how many died, but, whatever the exact figure, it was enough to make the guild and anyone associated with it, devils in the eyes of the survivors.