Bodies on the line

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They were coming. The signal had reached the shipyard, passed along the line of messengers strung out across the city's lookout posts, sending a ripple of fear and anticipation through the workers and soldiers stationed there. They were all soldiers now, with most of the shipbuilders refusing to take refuge in the higher levels of the city and instead taking up arms to defend their work. The Mountain Breaker had been attacked once already, from within, and this time she would be protected.

Kaido Ghent stormed up and down the line of men and women positioned at the doors to the enormous warehouse housing the Mountain Breaker. Many of them had been working day and night on the ship since the sabotage, straining against exhaustion to get her air-ready, refusing to bow to the king on the hill even as he assembled his army outside the walls of Bruckin. The enemy was real and growing but they were stonebreakers and would not be cowed.

"There's a lot of the bastards," Kaido shouted, a sword hanging awkwardly from his belt instead of his usual tools. "But they don't care like we do. They follow their king because they've been told to. Half of them have been forced into service. Is that us? No! We care. We love this ship. We love this city. Do we do this for Viscount Lief? Do we do this in the memory of Baron Lief? No! Bruckin is not about a single man. We are a people. This city is our body. The Mountain Breaker is our child. We are its parents. And we look after our own, is that right?"

The cry was loud and clear. "That's right, boss!" Hundreds of voices, united and ready to fight.

Rosa had gone to the upper levels already, under protest. Kaido didn't want to leave her but this was his place. Ever since the sabotage incident he'd felt as if he were living on borrowed time; part of him had died in those explosions, and perhaps this final battle was the only reason he remained above ground.

"We're all good, boss," Bursk said, clad in the same makeshift armour as everyone else who wasn't an official part of the city guard. The forges had been working beyond capacity to manufacture armour and weapons for anyone with the will to wield a blade or hold a bow. Nobody there was under any illusions about the reality of the situation, yet the stonebreaker spirit remained intact: even in the face of annihilation, Bruckin retained its unique confidence and determination. The outsiders called it arrogance; Kaido had always considered it fate.

The fighting began at the south-western edge of the shipyard. It was sooner than expected - much sooner. The reinforcements from the upper levels had yet to arrive, as everything was happening faster than any of the forecasts. They watched the skirmish as it unfolded, the Bruckin defenders initially holding off the attackers, then falling one-by-one as more Treydolain soldiers came over the fences, leaping from rooftops down into the work yard. Kaido lowered the glass from his eye, grimacing. "They'll be here soon, ladies and gentlemen," he declared, drawing his sword. "Let's show them the error of their ways."

"Shouldn't we get down there, boss," Bursk queried, "and lend a hand?"

Kaido shook his head grimly. "We were told to hang back here. Everyone else slows them down. We hold the line here."

The attacking force had indeed been slowed, and thinned, with many of its number slumped around the gates at the far end of the compound. The remaining group moved cautiously from ship-to-ship, using the busyness of the shipyard as cover. Flames began to spread as they torched some of the half-completed vessels. This had been expected; the layout of the shipyard had been altered over the previous weeks to move the least finished boats towards the entry point. That had delayed overall production, of course, but it had been a sound strategy. All the ships that were nearly ready to fly remained safely on the other side of the Mountain Breaker's warehouse. Moving her had been impossible, and so this was where the line had to be drawn.

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