Written by Okadoka In a side portion of the Regalian City not far from the poorer districts of Old Town, behind raised stone walls and guard towers that keep up a vigilant gaze, is the Regalian Armory, the single largest store of gunpowder, cannons, and other artillery pieces on the Crown Isle. And first in line of the party of Resistance members, predominantly Mercenaries, who had sallied to reclaim it, was Rodderick Howlester, his hands balled into fists. He had seen no need for armor (although for practical purposes was protected by Oscar Theodard, who stood close to make sure he did not get ingloriously shot), not a single piece of plate to obscure the view his enemies would get of his family Kiltach, because as far as he was concerned this was a personal matter, and the pilfering leeches who had spat on his family’s monopoly were going to run away if they knew what was good for them before they got a taste of his anger. Unlike attacks occurring elsewhere however, the Mercenaries were operating on their personal good understanding of Vampire watch patterns and force concentrations. They had put their heads together beforehand and reasoned that since they had attacked frontally throughout the occupation, often barreling through gates and pressing up to Greygate itself before being chased off by Demetrius’ cannon fire, the last thing that the Vampires would possibly expect would be for them to act with an intelligent secrecy and not reveal their presence until the time was right, grappling up walls and breaching side chambers instead of blowing down the front gate and bravely charging in. With grappling hooks helpfully provided by the Bottinatrici brothers, and in ignorance of their ethically questionable sourcing, the party scaled one of the side walls under the cover of shade. Everyone was instructed to stay very quiet, as they rappelled up the side and were pulled up by those who had already made it if they were not able to clear it the entire way, taking up positions laying down on the cobblestones once they had made it all the way up. It took several minutes of back and forth for them to all scale the wall, during which Fulgore Fänger had been up to something. Ever modest and dapper, the smoothly spoken hunter had preoccupied himself with mixing together different powders in an oblong canister head, tapering off the concoction with a pinch of fireweed. Two of his finely white-gloved fingers pointed into the courtyard below them, where the majority of the Vampiric garrison was engaged in a game of sparring and betting, crowded together within a small dueling pen. This of course had been arranged for by the Mercenaries, for whom Benjamin Wulfmacht and Sempronia de Luzador had waltzed into the Armory some days before posing as informers there who wanted to give the Vampire garrison a leg up and a chance to get out of the mess they were in. Falsely telling them that there would be an attack some eight to nine hours after the genuine date, they found them reveling away the day in good spirit, oblivious to what was about to befall them. Fulgore reached up to the bridge of his nose, his fingers carefully pinching away his eyeglasses, and folding them into his vest. Bereft of its usual sly mirth, his expression set into a thin line as he loaded the canister onto a socket arrow and slowly, quietly, strung it into his crossbow. Once the telltale click of a loaded weapon sounded, with Aksel Nordhjem helping him draw it from behind without a winch with his Url strength, he peeked up just barely, resting his weapon on the outer cobblestones and using them to aim. When Fulgore pulled the trigger, his round careened down to ground level, colliding into the crowd and exploding in a furious fit of carnage. No one was spared, bodies flying in every which direction, after which Rodrigo Peirgarten barked an order to his men: “Go!” Off the wall they scrambled, their surprise used up, reusing the ropes which had so conveniently brought them atop the wall, some of them sliding down with knives or hands to bring them down the side in a more controlled way. All of them except Rodderick Howlester, who ran off to the side towards a record-tower after patting his guards on the back and ensuring them that he would be quite alright, and that they should wait outside for him. A sharp kick brought down the musty, ill-fitting door barring his way, and he dashed inside to confront the five or six Vampiric sentinels on duty, incredulous that this unarmored, unarmed man had just broken into their redoubt without a single follower behind him, and what’s more had closed the door behind him so he could not be helped even if his guards had decided to disobey his orders and tag along anyway. But what they did not know was that Rodderick had another trick up his sleeve, the Howlester’s nails extending into claws, his teeth sharpening into feral fangs, his expression twisting into a bestial snarl. He made quick work of them without a soul to bear witness, plunging his talons into their weak spots, grabbing their stomachs and dashing them against the walls. In Rodderick’s eyes, their darkened talons and teeth were a cruel corruption of his own, which he was glad to correct by putting the offending Vampires down one by one, unconcerned with sparing them, for they had both stolen from his family, and now knew his secret. When the final remaining sentry tried to run, he leapt forward, fangs closing about his neck in an ironic twist of fate, bringing him down to the ground and biting until it was over. He soon arose and dusted himself off, features reverting to normal, straightening the tie of his Kiltach and the resplendent Howlester emblem which gleamed there, and walked right back to Oscar Theodard and Exuro Weismann, tugging the door shut so that they would not have to see the mangled bodies behind him- at which point, they descended together, joining the rest. The others had not been idle. Led by Rodrigo Peirgarten, they exploited Fulgore’s breach to bash their way into the second courtyard and surprise the small company of men standing sentry there. Rodrigo was the first on top of them, his purple eyes shining with violent intent as he thought to repay the tragedy that had been dealt to him at the Mercenary Keep with a tragedy of his own making, never one to mope and leave revenge to fate or the hands of others. His hand crashed onto the shoulder of the first Vampire he saw, while his other robbed him of his spear, plucking it effortlessly from his terrified, shaking grasp. Rodrigo lowered the weapon’s keen point, plunging it through the Vampire’s chest, raising him up and up into the air, impaling him on it for all to see and waving him around like a banner. This was the auspice that others would charge to, leaping past and around him, screaming their battle-cries as the plan of stealth was impromptu abandoned and the entire garrison snapped to high alert and prepared to repulse them. Gwendolyn Black protected Rodrigo while he was occupied with inspiring the men, her saber flashing every which way in capable, practiced swordwork, with the Admiral standing her ground against the Vampires whom she might’ve borne amicable company only several weeks before, when she was counted among their number. Either her blade’s edge found their chests, or its tip swung up to embed through their chin. No prisoners were taken. The last left standing in their path was felled with a rondel dagger drawn from her belt and plunged into the side of his neck, Gwendolyn sending him crashing to the ground, and immediately recoiling to wipe the spots of blood that had gotten on her hand off on the side of Rodrigo’s jacket, her expression wrinkled in disgust. The Vampires standing inside the first hallway to fall to the Mercenaries fared little better than the ones gored by Rodrigo. Many of them even began to rout before the skirmish had begun, fleeing to an upper floor, because the story of the Waldmarker Landsknecht who dressed like a clown and killed like a Great Jungle Cat had propagated among them, a legend of all the Mercenaries combining into one that was exemplified by the towering figure of Franz Knispel, about whose feet thunder danced with each step he took. His montante arced through the air, removing arms, legs and heads whenever it crashed down, buffeting away three enemies at once when they tried to approach him, Franz cackling demonically all the while, unearthly grin planted wide on his face. The last thing that the routing enemy saw was the flash of a thunder bolt as his thrusting blade morphed into a lightning strike before their very eyes, downing a Vampire through the chest and pinning him to the ground while reinforcements scurried all around him to press towards the stairwell. Once up the stairs, the Mercenaries came to a more open-air walkway which proceeded further into the Armory redoubt, straddling the first and second set of walls and serving as an elevated passage above a series of bilgewater moats below. Here the Bottinatrici brothers again made themselves useful, with Marco dashing the hastily assembled Vampiric spearwall sent to slow them down with a toss of his acidic alchemy that melted their shields and destroyed their formation, bubbling acid that dissolved metal at the slightest touch of its infernal solution, and Sam running forward in the aftermath and cutting several where they stood, boot swinging to kick one off of the bridge and crashing directly into the water far underneath. Together they cleared the way for others to follow, shouting various Azzizzari and Daen slogans just in case one of their opponents would somehow survive and tell tales of the War Dogs in the future, while the other Mercenaries reformed into a proper unit much like they had had before the initial charge and pressed forward in lockstep, entering the final hub building behind the doors of which their vital payload was stored. Behind the blasted-open door, they found a Vampiric von Kërle lieutenant and a series of her followers. It was now up to Sempronia de Luzador and Benjamin Wulfmacht to make quick work of them, the crossbowmen reloading at furious paces, downing any man who had the audacity to try to rush them. Benjamin favored more clean tactics, with the Wulfmacht clicking his rounds into place and firing one shot into either knee before finally aiming for the head so that he could be sure he had downed each opponent individually and they would never get back up, while Sempronia was messier, and used her Hooking and Knocking Shots together to wreak havoc in larger crowds, haphazardly aiming at any body part she could hit, not caring for the technique of the disable but moreso that her enemies were disabled and could not fight back any longer. Left standing, however, was the von Kërle. Unimpressed with the arrows of her enemies, she had deftly weaved around them, footwork carrying her perfectly to the side every single time, rapier not even having left its sheath in bold taunt. Next to step forward was Florian du Poncaire, who assumed the traditional dueling posture, putting his hand on his left hip and sticking his elbow out, chest pressed forward. His Vampiric opponent sneered at him, finally sliding forward her weapon and saluting with the epée blade pressed to her mouth, flourishing it to the side thereafter and drawing the point forward. While some others watched and the rearguard turned around to prepare fortified defensive spots for the inevitable Vampiric counterattack on their position, Florian expertly parried away her blows, the heeled shoes of the two clicking back and forth against the cobbled floor in a very traditional display of Leutz fencing. Neither quite had the upper hand, each taking turns being pressed against the furniture, swapping fencing hands or styles, with both throwing referential witty banter about the manuals of the major fencing masters of the era, goading each other with insults that they “must have learned to fence sabre first, pah, philistine,” and giving and taking ground in equal measure. The Vampire’s relaxedness, however, would be her undoing. Florian’s body snapped forward as he saw a moment he could exploit, stretching in a flying lunge, sticking the point of his rapier into her forearm and causing her to drop her own. Nothing now stood between her and a quick, grisly death, the Poncaire’s rapier-point buried through her eye, body collapsing to the ground. Alfred Wulfmacht and Yautja Maz-Azulon were the first to get back into the original courtyard, passing by their own bloody handiwork littering the ground, and come into contact with the large group of Vampiric reinforcements sent from the surrounding buildings at the first sign of violence to prevent this essential position from being taken. The two of them fought together in a learned coordination that comes only from years spent fighting alongside one another, Alfred’s steamtech shield once thrown not only colliding into the head of the nearest enemy, but using steam microthrusters to coordinate an artificial ricochet, bouncing around to dome five different Vampires at once and send them falling to the ground where he gutted them like boar with the point of his weapon, sliding it in. No fanciful footwork or extended saber bouts were needed by the Wulfmacht, who went about his business with the glib casual behavior that another might have while checking the morning mail, posture lax, expression calm, having long ago been desensitized to the entire affair. He made a striking contrast to Yautja, who behaved in a way that can only be described as feral, talons plunging into Vampire after Vampire after Vampire. There was not a single part of his body that he did not use to kill, his spear, his shield, his hands and his tail, even his teeth which were not naturally very sharp, burying his maw into a Vampiric neck when he had the opportunity to do so. Like many other Allar of the city, he had been displaced by Demetrius’ occupation, driven out of his district and then forced to use it as a military staging ground and defend it day and night. His fury was the product of many nights spent in the cold, exhausted and alone. Next up were Aksel Nordhjem and Reynard Benac, who both bore blunt weapons, although distinctly different in character. While Reynard had his favorite warhammer, well-worn from a lifetime of prudent use and careful repair when needed, Aksel Nordhjem was holding a fallen armored Vampire by the legs and using him as a bludgeon, one of the many cut down by the Bottinatrici brothers on the bridge earlier whose armor was fused together by acid and could be more easily gripped and swung about. Just when it seemed as if the continually flowing tide of reinforcements was about to overwhelm Alfred and Yautja, they arrived, taking up positions on either side of them and battering away at the flanks. Aksel revelled in his blessing of physical strength, not content to just swing about his newfound weapon, but picking up any who dared to rush him, tossing them back into the crowd and bowling them all over from there they could be savaged further, stomped on, gored, scattered about. Reynard meanwhile spied their divisional commander lurking in the back. Not about to let him get away with issuing orders, he shook his arm so that a familiar steel ball fell out of its lodged position in his sleeve and into his hand, fingers palming its shone surface. The swirls of a Magic Bolt gathered around it, a puff of air conjured on the wind, before it cracked across the battlefield, striking the man in the forehead, sending him crumpling to the ground and unable to coordinate the attack any longer. Last to return to the front were Rodderick Howlester once again, and his company of guards, this time joined by Eponia di Civita, who protectively stood in front of him while Oscar and Exuro had positions at either side. The others who had been fighting before folded away to allow them a piece of the action on the fifteen or so who remained to oppose them, with Rodderick simply raising his hand and issuing the order to engage. Oscar was the first to move, raising his tower shield and charging forward, armored boots clanging against the ground. He collided into the wave of enemies like a battering ram, his sword more a mark of ceremony than anything else, because his shield and armored body did all of the work, knocking Vampires prone before they even had any time to react. Exuro followed his mark with tendrils of flame streaming through the gaps in his helmet, eight arrows held in his right hand with his longbow firmly gripped in his left. He speed-loaded, flicking each arrow in between the correct fingers as he drew. It was a testament to the Guard’s strength that he was able to draw with so little of his musculature put into the action, his stout Anglian Longbow simply bending to his will like he was pulling on a thin willowy branch, and with each time he released an arrow one of the Vampires that Oscar had bodied and knocked over collapsed, shot in either the head or the chest, unable to get back up. In this way the two of them worked together, carving a path to the front door, where Rodderick and Eponia proceeded together, looking out over the entryway that they had entirely avoided by scaling the side wall. Eponia’s eyes widened, pupils dilating, as she realized that there was a single Vampire left who had hid in one of the alcoves, dagger-tip flashing and glinting a little bit of light off of it which reflected into her eyes, alerting her as to his presence. He sprung forward, aiming to at least be able to bring Rodderick down with the business end of his weapon before he was inevitably slain or driven off, but it was not to be. For as his legs tensed and carried him into the air, stabbing-arm plunging overhead, so too came down Eponia’s bardiche, the mists of Solleria a conjuration about her feet which also snaked up her body and wrapped her hands in the thick seaside squall, guiding her aim. The Lion Pelt’s posture pivoted, shoulder snapping, polearm twisting so that the blade came down over her body and arced towards the would-be attacker. A mere half-moment before he was able to collide with Rodderick, Eponia’s weapon made contact with the top of his head. The sheer power of her blow not only sent him careening to the floor, crushed, but traveled through his body which she had perfectly bisected, and bashed into the stone with such strength that it smote through the top layer of the road and buried her weapon’s tip into the stone, it becoming lodged and stuck. A pull, a tug, and a helpful push from Rodderick saw its gore-spattered length come out from the ground again. His nod in thanks and ensuing verbal gratitude were crudely interrupted by Rodrigo Peirgarten, who showed up with the same wild look in his eyes as when he had impaled the first man to see him in the courtyard. Turning back to most of the Mercenaries, who had followed him to the front, and getting a nod of assent to each of them, he pulled out a flare-gun from his vest pocket, and looked to Rodderick for the final shared approval. The Howlester breathed out slowly, adjusting his clothes one last time, and nodded. A pull of Rodrigo’s finger, and the bright red flare signaling victory at the Armory coursed into the sky, while those still below cheered it on, the precious artillery safe behind lock and key under their guard.