There must be blood

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There were so many contrary factors that even Garrus Lief's naturally strategic mind was buckling beneath the strain. The King's Eye agent - Roldan Stryke - had delivered news he had not dared to hope for: his brother was alive! Yet an army knocked at the city gates, calling for blood, in retribution for acts committed by Bruckin which none could state or clearly recall. His brother was alive, but stranded out to the westring, so cowed as to be requesting aid from the likes of Thistle & Twine. No messages could enter or leave the city, now that their airspace was targeted by the King's forces, leaving him no choice but to take Stryke's word at face value. The Mountain Breaker was more glorious than he had ever imagined, yet was still not airworthy and slumbered in the shipyard.

Garrus stood in the council chamber atop one of Bruckin's highest towers. To his right he could see the mountains huge and impossible, filling the window; to the left the valley stretched out beyond the city walls, the grassy plains and rocky outcrops sullied by the brown and yellows of the Treydolain army. They were a stain on the land, a physical manifestation of everything he and his brother had protested about the crown for over four decades. This moment had always been inevitable, but it had come too soon.

He observed an inch-thick layer of dust on the outer sill of the window, where it had settled after whatever cataclysmic event to the north had shook the earth. That had always been a tenuous hope, now dashed to nothingness. Garrus could feel the world becoming smaller, tighter, more threatening. For stonebreakers, the options were wearing thin.

There was a knock and the others entered: Stryke, of course, who had somehow become one of the inner advisors despite having previously been a spy for the court; then there was the ever-present Lord Halderman, never shy of an opinion, accompanied by Jonas Craic of the builder's guild and Bruckin police chief Balda Gare.

"What news, my friends?" Garrus asked, gesturing to the table.

Lord Halderman approached, ignoring the proferred seat, and handed over a small telescope. "News from the field, Viscount," he said, pointing at the army on the horizon. "Observe, centrally, between the largest tents."

Garrus lifted the eyeglass and focused it, moving it over the rows of tents and soldiers in training, until he settled on an especially luxuriant carriage surrounded by guards. "So the King himself has left his palace on the hill?"

"His arrival was observed and confirmed yesterday morning," Halderman said. "He spoke with the generals and the girl, then went inside one of the command tents. He hasn't been sighted since."

His leather and buckles clinking, Stryke walked around the table to stand beside them, drawing a disapproving glance from Halderman. "Why did nobody inform me of this earlier?" the gruff, old soldier said, squinting out of the window.

"He only just arrived," Halderman noted. "It took us a while to confirm that it was him and not a decoy. We came immediately to this meeting once the information was deemed accurate."

"A decoy?" Stryke's face scrunched into an expression Garrus could only read as utter disdain.

Garrus looked sideways at Stryke. "You have concerns?"

"I always have concerns," Stryke muttered, rolling his shoulders. "But I didn't expect this." He fell silent, took another couple of steps closer to the window, and folded his arms across his chest.

"Regardless," said Chief Gare from where he was sat, "they continue to prepare their siege machines, and to prevent transit in and out of the city. They intend to starve us out, until we are weak, and then take the city when it has nothing left to fight."

"What they don't know," Craic's voice boomed, a grin plastered on his face, "is that the longer they give us, the more ready we'll be. The Mountain Breaker is a week, maybe two away from being ready. The rest of the fleet is more-or-less good to go. Their tactical delay is our gain."

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