"We have to stop the attack, Your Grace. Our casualties are too great," pleaded Malek.

The northern district had burned for three days before it finally subsided, even now, though, it still lay smoldering. With the ruins all around them still steaming, it was very hot, even difficult to fight properly, but they could wait no longer, so the men deployed. They moved the men in the city through the district and started attacking the district walls. At the same time, they marched the forces still waiting outside the city on the western and eastern gates. Wessia put up a determined fight, however. They buried the streets in barricades and manned much of it with miners and other militia. The Norton attackers couldn't walk a single block without fighting several battles.

Frederika was a large city. It used to be one of the empire's biggest city and a crucial hub in its south. Its size and importance meant it already had serious defences, plus its continuous growth and renovation meant no map was ever up to date. This was confounded even further when Wessia took over. They renovated three quarters of the city (everything except the northern district), and upgraded its defences yet again.

The city's western district housed all its military facilities. It also had entertainment for the soldiers; brothels, baths, medical facilities, and taverns, amongst other things. Wessia had indeed won its soldiers' hearts. The men fought loyally; they would not retreat or surrender unless ordered to do so by their bosses.

The eastern district housed the miners and other skilled artisans. It was to be expected that the Union's military supplier would own many skilled in related arts. These, too, were treated well. The guild was not much different from the Japanese companies Lorist knew quite well. The various trades were passed down in the family, and each new generation worked for the same company as the last. Such people were incredibly loyal to their employers. They, too, would not let House Norton take their city as long as they breathed. Lorist's greatest fears had come true. There was no way he could poach these skilled laborers, they would die before serving him, and were doing so alongside his enemy's army as one of them.

The fight in the west was particularly intense and unforgiving. The district had been turned into a citadel, an insurmountable fortress. The eastern district wasn't too far behind. It was littered with barricades and obstacles, in some places even the houses along the road were demolished, torn down and collapsed over the street to block it off. Corpses paved the streets and blocked the doorways. If only a single battle could be called one of attrition, this was it.

The ballistae, so crucial in holding their foothold on the northern wall just a few days ago, was no useless. The streets curved and turned almost incessantly, and the few stretches of straight road was barricaded with furniture and rubble or blocked by a collapsed building. They were also prime targets and suffered frequent attacks out of nearby building or from nearby rooftops. A few days of this had forced Malek to pull the weapons back. A few more days brought everything to a halt. They stood at a stalemate.

"We cannot continue like this, Your Grace. Even if we take the city eventually, we'll be too weakened to push on to our other objectives. Tigersoar is down 4600 men and Firmrock about half that. All of this for barely any inroads. We haven't even taken half of the districts. Our best progress is in the eastern district, and that only because it's mostly rubble. We can do almost nothing with it and might as well not have taken anything at all. Our camp outside the city was attacked last night as well. We're still trying to figure out how bad the damage is. We're fighting blind and coughing while our enemy can see and breath clearly..." reported Malek.

A large portion of Wessia's forces were mercenaries. They excelled at guerilla tactics, and the ruined city was the perfect terrain as well. House Norton had no match. That the locals had taken up arms against them did them no favors either. They would usually take a city in a day or less, entirely intact. And the civilians would either be happy to have the Nortons as their new overlords, or be at worst indifferent. They had never faced a hostile populace before. Even the women, elderly, and children joined in the fighting. For the first time, House Norton was being treated as vile invaders, as the villains. The men's morale were not doing good.

Lorist stared at the simple city map on the table. It had been drawn based on descriptions provided by the men and th scouts' surveys. The southern district was almost featureless, only the inner, outer, and dividing walls, and a few landmark buildings like a church steeple were filled in. The eastern and western districts were far more detailed, but they might as well not be. The landscape inside changed almost by the hour -- the map was out of date even before it was drawn. In total, only a third of the outer city had been conquered, none of the inner city, and half of that was still being contested.

He had three Tigersoar divisions and one Firmrock division in and around the city at the moment. By his side was also 2000 of his personal guard. His forces totalled 60 thousand. If the men were packed in like sardines he could only fit 40 thousand in the area of the city he currently controlled.

Wessia, conversely, had suffered heavy losses to their heavy pikemen, but still had 30 thousand soldiers. If the civilians who'd also taken up arms, many of whom spontaneously, they had 80 thousand fighting bodies. The guild's extensive weapon stores were also still in their hands, so all 80 thousand were decently armed.

It turned out the guild had three of their four blademasters in the city. So far they had lost their two rookies, but their rank 2 blademaster, which was accompanying the guild's president, was also present. No one knew how many gold-ranked knights they had left. The guild had double the Nortons' fieldable forces and a stubbornness they had not encountered. Malek was right. They could not let this continue. At this rate they would have lost the fight even if they took the city. A pyrrhic victory in this battle was a defeat in the war.

The guild clearly knew this and were trying to cost him as many lives as they could. Every enemy they killed was a small victory for them. The city itself was a minefield Lorist could not take easily, and the guild stuffed the towers and walls it controlled to the breaking point with archers and ammo, so taking the walls go around the bogs that were the districts was not an option either.

He'd planned to clear out the three districts in which he now sat mired before marching along the walls. Once everything there was under control he would clear the southern district and force the guild to surrender. Once he could see the walls to the inner city properly, however, he gave up on the idea. Wessia had made the inner city a city separate from the outer city. Surrounding the inner city by taking all of the outer city brought him no closer to victory than surrounding the entire city without assaulting it at all. The inner walls were several meters taller than all the others, and could not be assailed from the others. The also had numerous massive ballistae that could cover almost a quarter of the way to the outer walls. No street within that range facing the inner wall was safe. Lorist's only consolation was that they were slow to fire and had to be refitted with new rope springs after only a few shots.

"Why not give them their wish, Your Grace? Since they wish to die in their city, let us burn it all," offered Loze. He was furious at Wessia for resisting his conquering fist. Who were they to want to not be crushed under his Norton heel? What right did they have to kill his men? Didn't they know the proper thing to do was to sit still and wait quietly to be executed?

Lorist shook his head.

Wessia could burn the northern district because it was made of flammable materials. But the rest of the city was built out of stone and ceramics, there was no burning it down. It was hard to even set something on fire there, much less have it spread naturally. At best they'd only be burning the houses at the edge of the ballistae's range. They'd actually be doing Wessia a favor by creating open space so they could see the Nortons coming.

"We have three Firmrock divisions still being held in reserve, why not deploy them to the city? They will be much better at fighting in this environment than Tigersaor," suggested Josk.

"Not happening. Wessia still controls all the other city gates. If we move them out they can either escape, or worse, encircle us instead. The latter is obviously unacceptable, but we can't let them escape either. We have to uproot them completely.

"This stalemate is thanks to the machinations of the guild's leaders. If we can push into the city and kill the leaders, the enemy will fall into disarray and be easy pickings. Even better, if we can take them hostage, we can force the men to surrender. It won't be too late to execute them later, in fact, I would prefer it that way."

"I cannot sanction assaulting the inner city, You Grace. We'll expose our sides and rear to the enemy. If they use the opportunity wisely, which experience says they will, the could force us out of the city entirely, or, even worse, wipe out everything we have in the city," Malek protested.

"We won't make our push through the two contested districts. Have the men halt their advance. We'll push through the northern district which we control completely. Potterfang will arrive with Thundebolt Brigade in about a week. We can just smash the northern district's inner wall and barge in. As long as we capture the president and the rest of their high-command, the city is ours."

So it was done.

For the next two days the Nortons made no pushes. The only fighting happened when Wessia sent forces out to try and retake some of the city or walls they lost. On the second day Wessia became very suspicious, this was not how Norton Lorist was known to operate. He was docile, but when he made his move, he finished it in one go. He'd never given up and accepted a stalemate. The president sent an envoy to figure out what was going on.

The envoy was a well-spoken senior officer in the guild. He confirmed Lorist's suspicions. The guild would fight him to the last man. The city would only be his once he'd killed every single inhabitant. He even claimed that Norton would not take the city. Wessia outnumbered him, even if they had to sacrifice one and a half men for every Norton they killed, there would still be more of their men standing when the last Norton fell.

The second month was coming to an end, in thirty days the first rains of the rainy season would fall. Neither side could fight. The side with the most supplies would win if the fighting lasted until then. If that happened, House Norton would lose without a doubt. Wessia was fighting on their home turf, in their capital, no less. They had supplies to hold out for months, even years. The Norton forces, on the other hand, were out in the field, hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest friendly territory, they could not bring in any more supplies, and whatever they had with them would not last them until they could. The guild hoped that Lorist would accept his inevitable defeat and retreat.

The guild would hold out until the rainy season ended one way or another, and would call for Union reinforcement the moment the rains abated. Lorist had no way to stand against the millions that would come marching down his throat if he still stood on Union soil. He might not even be able to hold out on home ground. If he was still in the city when the time came, he would not leave alive even if he tried. The man was not all threat, though. He offered Lorist an olive branch. He said the guild understood that he'd acted only because he could not stand up to his king and it would not hold him directly responsible if he withdrew without further futile fighting.

Lorist curled into a ball which shook in laughter for several minutes. The envoy stood, staring at him awkward until he recovered.

"I though you were an envoy, not a joker! We have only just gotten started with you. Do you think you'll still exist when this is over? Where do you get your confidence from? No, this can't be called confidence, it's nothing but arrogance!

"But, since you've made this offer, I'll return the favor. If you surrender immediately, I might consider sparing you. I don't care who you think you are, but to us you're nothing but another snake to step on. We've never fought a snake that could bite us, and you are no different."

The envoy didn't retaliate furiously. Lorist had to give him that much, he was worth his salt as a doplimat. The man seemlessly switched tactics when his first attempt failed.

"As long as you retreat and return the land you stole from us, we will pay you two million gold Fordes as ransom."

Another bout of laughter.

"Why do we need to give you the empire's land for money we'll own soon enough anyway? You should surrender and save your lives. Blame yourself for crossing the empire by occupying its rightful land. Learn your lesson well. You're free to go after whatever you want, but anything that belongs to the empire is off limits. If you surrender immediately, I guarrantee you can leave the city safely."

The envoy finally snapped.

"This is our city, our land, our people! The guild and its people will go to hell before we give you what is rightfully ours, and we'll pull you down kicking and screaming along with us! We've already prepared everything. If you break into the inner city we'll burn everything down, you will get nothing but ashes even if you survive!"

Lorist slammed the desk, which nearly collapsed, and jumped to his feet, furious.

"If you set fire to even a single warehouse, I swear that not a single man, woman, or child of your guild will walk out of this city alive! I will hunt down every last living being with even a single drop of Wessia blood in their veins and slaughter them at the top of your castle! In no more than ten years not a single Wessian will walk this earth and you will only be remembered in the curses of your subjects!"

The envoy turned around and stormed out, not even bothering adhere to etiquette and say goodbye properly.

Potterfang set Firmrock's Thunderbolt Brigade up in the northern district on the 7th of the 2nd.

On the 9th, the bombardment began. The inner wall in the northern district, and the portions of the western and eastern districts still under Wessian control were all assaulted. The defenders could do nothing to halt the bombardment and slowly withdrew to the inner city.

Lorist led his guards into the inner city in the afternoon. Wessia sent out its one remaining blademaster to face him. The man died quickly. In response the guilds leadership tried to retreat through the southern district, setting fire to everything behind them.

The fire raged for two days and almost nothing of the city was left untouched when the fire was finally put out. A third of the storehouses' contents were salvagable, however.

On the 12th of the 2nd, the miners in the eastern district surrendered. Nearly ten thousand Wessian soldiers withdrew to the citadel, however, and swore they'd fight to the last man.

Wessian leadership made it to the wall on the 13th but were all captured when they left through the gate. The men inside the citadel refused several offers of surrender and were crushed on the 14th. All were killed. Lorist then executed all the Wessian captives, men, women, and children.

On the 14th day of the 2nd month on Year 1787, Andinaq's Duke of The Northlands Norton Lorist's forces successfully took over Frederika and killed off 30 thousand of the guild's officials and men, as well as their families. Soon after the continent's second skeleton pyramid was built.

Wessia ceased to exist as a member of the Union's big-seven on that day. When word finally spread to the Union after the rainy season ended, it was tumbled into chaos for several days. When things calmed down the remaining guilds called a crusade on Norton Lorist. They declared him and anyone and everyone even remotely associated with him their mortal enemy and swore they would not rest until his torn corpse was rotting over Morant's city gates.