The second day of the siege was just as bloody as the first. The great halls of Cairn Mound were nonetheless too small to fire siege engines in, so each barricade had to be tackled at great cost to the Order, leaving hundreds dead and dying with each fresh charge.
Everywhere the Order of the Flame turned they were met with resistance. Desperate orders for reinforcements went out and were answered. This was the country’s last vile lair of bloodeyes and no matter the cost they had to free at least this land of the bloodeye curse.
Inside, the defenders were flagging. Many had fallen and Michael was tired to the bone. They couldn’t risk him becoming a bloodeye too soon, so his orders had changed to prevent anyone getting through side-passages and hunting down the squads that made it through the defences. Rubera was with him when she could spare the time, and in rare quiet moments she would brush his hair like she had done when he was ill.
But this was a battle, and one they were losing.
Javelin sighed wearily as he slumped against the uncomfortable seats in the Council Chambers. They’d lost many of the residences now, and what had been the temple was now an infirmary for the injured and dying. Thralls and Fair Folk alike slept on the benches, battered and bruised. He surveyed what remained of their forces and shook his head.
Two sets of barricades left. The last refugees had made it through hours ago, was the news. As many people as they could manage had been saved. Rubera tapped her finger on the table in front of her, gazing thoughtfully at her battered mask as she contemplated the event that would soon take place.
“Praetor?” Neal said, nervously. “We’re on the last set of barricades now.”
Javelin nodded and rose from his seat, along with the other high-ranked bloodeyes. Some had volunteered to give up their lives, to make the show seem realistic enough. Rubera, Javelin and many of the other high-ranked bloodeyes would escape through a passage that Julie would seal up. And then the final act would begin.
“Give them a good show.” Aves said.
“I will.” Neal replied.
He rubbed his arm unconsciously, feeling the nerves that everyone else was. Nathaniel walked up behind him and rested his head against Neal’s. This was no time for judgement or self-consciousness. Even if the Order of the Flame did act as predicted, there was a good chance that many of them would die regardless.
Michael raised his head, rubbing his eyes as Rubera left the room. Their eyes met and she nodded to him. This would be the last time they met as thrall and master.
As the sacrificial bloodeyes and the last of the warghals went out to meet their fate, Michael put on his battered armour and mask. Neal made sure Nathaniel’s armour was fitted properly before Nathaniel turned to adjust Neal’s. Julie clapped her hands, stood by the entrance to the Council Chambers.
“Come on now, positions everybody!” she called. “Our masters have left us to what may be for some, our final duty. Let’s make sure we carry that out with pride.”
Michael clenched his hands tightly and felt Gunnr rest her hand on his shoulder. She smiled from under her lifted visor.
“It’ll be all right, Crow. You’ll still be you afterwards.”
He grunted. “Not that. I… always felt strongly about bloodeyes. What they are capable of...”
Gunnr shrugged. “No-one denies that Ancients don’t belong in this realm. They don’t. And bloodeyes are
unnatural, their urges included. Does that mean we shouldn’t find ways to live equally? Because you of all people should know the Ancients don’t come when they’re called. It’s best to have a society who can help people live with that and deal with the effects as they come.”
“Right. It is not about justice or what is natural. It is about order. I have… learned that.”
“Exactly. Come on, Valravn
Michael grimaced. “Yes, yes. I am coming.”
They stepped out, rounded the corner and into the chaos of battle. It played out exactly as the Order expected it to – just as had been planned. With the numbers of powerful bloodeyes low the defenders were quickly pushed back. But Michael’s presence, as his alter ego Valravn led the Order of the Flame into believing they would soon find the more powerful bloodeyes sheltering, leaving the battle to their ‘minions’. After all, if such a notable fiend was still in the front lines, the others would surely still be waiting for their chance, after the Order became complacent.
The defences broke.
The forty or so still surviving surrendered, shoved roughly to the ground and disarmed. They couldn’t find Michael’s weapons but he used his hybrid biology to great effect, hissing and snarling in Dualthic-accented tones, leading them to believe they did indeed have a captured bloodeye.
And they were rounded up into the Temple, Michael tossed to the ground near Neal and Nathaniel who, despite being battered and battle-scarred: were still alive.
“I am… glad to see you have survived.” Michael murmured.
“You too. Or rather we’d have been scuppered if you hadn’t.” Nathaniel muttered. “I have the knife at the ready.”
“Good. Ah, and here comes our leading actor now.” Michael said, watching as the Great Marshal Blackshot swaggered into the temple.