You can't go back again

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The Aviar command ship swung around and dropped altitude as it approached the staging ground in the very centre of Bruckin, at the intersection which marked the beating heart of the city and which connected all of the many stratified levels via the train station, though its cars now sat immobile and shuttered. The Bruckin guard had assembled, bolstered by civilian volunteers, and the Avii arrivals had rapidly congregated in the same location, having to hastily introduce themselves, avoid accidental conflict, and adapt to the topography of the city and the impending battle plan.

Advancing from the south through the burning streets, now turning from active flame to smouldering, thick ash and tar, the Treydolain army was still sizeable and well reinforced, even if it had been scattered and diluted by the many guerilla raids launched from side streets and the upper levels. Aviar's arrival had slowed them and disrupted whatever plans they had had, but still they advanced with the unbroken inevitability of a force possessing far greater raw numbers. From the deck of the command ship, Fenris could see the people of Bruckin huddling on the upper walkways and platforms, or further north on the upper tiers and terraces: they were the ones too young or too old or too infirm to fight.

"Do we have enough?" Kirya asked, leaning over the railing with her spyglass. "I didn't expect my father's army to advance so far, but they keep coming, even despite our Aviar allies."

"Unless King Guijus' authority over them is broken, they will keep throwing themselves into the grinder," Fenris said with a grimace. "Any who refuse know they face a final punishment for deserting. They will have all been told stories of what Bruckin will do to prisoners, of course."

"How did it come to this?" Kirya beat her hand on the rail in frustration, and moved a few steps along the deck to get a better view. "I should never have left."

A scout approached from the opposite side of the command ship. "Princess Kirya," he announced, "the King has been sighted. He approaches from the south-west, moving along the wider promenade with a significant force."

"He's in the city?" Kirya rushed across to see for herself.

Fenris, more contemplative, followed at a distance. Guijus Tellador was not a man for throwing himself into danger; not out of cowardice but from his deeper sense of practicality. Guijus had always been obsessed with the stability of the valley, part of which he had frequently explained to Fenris involved keeping the monarchy stable. This was an ugly and unpredictable battle and it was entirely out of character for the King to be in the middle of it. The presence of the King would have some positive effect on troop morale, but even that wouldn't explain it: the risk of the opposite effect should Guijus be injured, killed or captured would have dissuaded him of the notion. In other words, the King's presence was not required for a successful operation in Bruckin - but, then again, Treydolain's entire strategy seemed rushed and illogical, which was absolutely not what Fenris would have expected from Zdarton and Stover.

As he made his way across the lightly rolling deck, he watched Kirya striding ahead, full of purpose, despite having only recently returned fully to her senses and still feeling the after effects of the abuse she'd suffered from Kraisa. Fenris' heart swelled, the knowledge that he had contributed somewhat to the better aspects of this young woman's confidence and skills and - dare he say it - morality. She sought, always, rapprochement and intelligent compromise, above power-plays and bravura politics. She was a dreamer, but one able to connect her most ephemeral ideas to practical reality. If anything, Fenris had underestimated her essential influence over her father. Failing to recognise that was his great mistake, and an untapped pathway that was now forever lost.

Stepping up to the port-side railing, Fenris squinted at the streets below. There were multiple Treydolain forces converging on the square, while the Bruckin and Aviar forces held their ground and prepared to block their progress.

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