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Hundreds of Valemen came pouring out from the trees and charged at the wall.
“ARCHERS, FIRE AT WILL!” Jean shouted. Only the few towers closest to him could hear his voice, but all the knights repeated his order down the wall. In seconds, arrows began raining down upon the charging Valemen.
“Guess they finally got tired of waiting around,” Jean muttered as he raced to the main tower from where he had been standing on the wall. He’d heard the alarm Leon had raised and ran to the tower with his sword, bow, and armor, so he and all the rest of the soldiers were ready.
The main tower had been built directly over the doors, to function as a sort of gatehouse—though the doors weren’t quite big enough to be considered a gate. Within, there was a small console of runic circles and a glowing diamond the size of his head locked within a cage. Jean hurriedly fished out a couple keys from his pocket, then he slammed his palm into several of the runic circles once the cage was open.
‘Hopefully the enchantments in the wall will work…’ Jean thought to himself. He’d activated the enchantments several times in the past few days, but they had never been tested in battle before, so he had no idea if they would function as they should. Compounding his worry was the state of the diamond that powered the enchantments; it was glowing a dull red, rather than the orange it should’ve been if it were full of magic.
After a few tense seconds, he could feel the wall almost start humming with magic power, while the light emanating from the diamond flickered a few times. ‘These damned things had better hold up; the wall was the only thing that was built here with any kind of care…’ Jean worriedly thought. He then turned around and made for the top of the tower, locking the cage behind him.
‘Six,’ Leon silently counted as he nocked and drew another arrow. There were so many Valemen that he could shoot blindly and still hit an enemy, but he took a brief moment to find the strongest warriors. He fired his arrow at a second-tier Valeman who had managed to sprint so close to the wall that Leon barely needed to aim. Leon’s aim was true, and the arrow pierced the Valeman at the base of his neck. The Valeman warrior crumpled, while Leon counted, ‘Seven,’ as he drew yet another arrow and searched for his next target.
Beside Leon was Alix and the ten-man squad that had been assigned to guard the tower.
“There!” shouted the squad leader, pointing at a large cluster of Valemen huddling behind their shields advancing up the hill their tower had been built upon. The squad targeted them and rapidly shot arrows, hitting the Valemen in their exposed legs and shoulders. The Valemen fell, and a second round of arrows finished them off.
Alix tried to follow along with them, but her skills with the bows were lacking. Fortunately, if there was one thing the fort had in abundance, it was arrows, so even though she missed frequently, the supply of projectiles didn’t suffer.
In fact, every tower had been stocked with thousands of arrows that had been accumulated in the years since the fort had been built. This let every soldier in every tower shoot with almost reckless abandon, and Valemen fell in droves to this nonstop fire.
“They’ve made it to the foot of the wall!” shouted the squad leader in Leon’s tower.
This shout redirected everyone to target those huddling down by the wall rather than those still climbing the hill. Unfortunately, the towers were rather limited in their fortifications and lacked machicolations, so to fire down at such a low angle, the soldiers had to lean out over the battlements. What made this problem worse was that some of the Valemen had bows, and they hid behind those with shields, so the soldiers had to endure counter-fire when leaning out.
But, this was less of a problem for Leon, who had his full suit of metal armor on. He glanced over the edge, located the strongest Valeman at the foot of the wall, then popped out from behind the battlements and shot him.
“Shoot at those who’re charging! I’ll take these assholes below us!” Leon shouted to the squad leader. He’d noticed that the other soldiers were wary of exposing themselves to Valeman arrows, so he went about trying to pick up the slack and let them go back to shooting those Valemen farther from the wall.
The squad leader nodded to Leon in thanks, then shouted at his men, “Fire at those closer to the tree line!”
Arrows kept flying out from their tower and striking Valemen. The twelve of them in the tower alone had already killed over a hundred Valemen, but more kept coming.
From the tree line, Hakon could see hundreds of Valemen fall to the Southern arrow fire. He didn’t react in the slightest, as he couldn’t care less about the warriors from subordinate tribes.
Hakon glanced back over his shoulder at the hundreds of warriors from his own tribe waiting in reserve. They were quiet, but he could tell from the way they fidgeted about most of them wanted to get into the fight. He guessed that those he left with his thanes were equally restless, but he trusted his thanes to keep them in check.
“Patience,” he whispered to those closest to him, “patience. Wait for those worthless dogs to deplete the Southern arrows before we attack…”
Hakon’s eyes scanned over the length of wall that he could see. By his reckoning, several hundred second-tier and a few dozen third-tier warriors had made it to the foot of the wall. According to the plan, they would now try to jump over.
This was a difficult task with the men in the towers shooting at them, but there were too many targets for the Southerners to stop them.
“Get ready…” he called out, signaling his own warriors to prepare to charge. He was waiting for the Valemen to leap atop the wall the distract the Southerners enough for Hakon’s men to attack in relative safety.
He saw one third-tier warrior, a chief of a small tribe of barely three thousand, jump up and reach out his hand for the edge of the wall. The wall was built high, but not so high that third-tier mages couldn’t reach the edge. But, the chief couldn’t reach it. His fingers just barely missed the battlements, and the chief fell back to the ground.
Hakon could see the look of disbelief on the Valeman’s face as he stared up at the wall. The chief squatted down, then jumped again, putting far more strength into his legs than he had before. Yet, again, the chief didn’t reach the wall. Hakon watched him closely that time and saw that the chief had seemed to slow down near the top, as if he had run into sludge. The chief loudly cursed and the warriors around him stared as more arrows from the towers fell upon them.
“Damned wall’s enchanted,” Hakon muttered. Looking to his right and left, he could see that all the second and third-tier warriors that attempted to scale the wall were running into the same problem. The Valemen couldn’t get over the wall! A few warriors with climbing picks and a few more with axes tried to climb over or chop their way through the timber of the wall, but the picks couldn’t pierce the wood and the axes bounced off.
Hakon scowled, then angrily growled to the man at his side, “Sound the fucking horn!”
‘Twenty-nine,’ Leon counted as he fired arrow after arrow. The hill beneath the tower was littered with the bodies of dead and injured Valemen, but there were thousands out in the clear zone swarming around the feet of the towers. Those that had shields had raised them to block the arrows, but from their positions, the soldiers could kill the Valemen with near-impunity while only having to worry about the few Valemen armed with bows.
The battle had only been going on for about fifteen minutes, but it already seemed like the Legion soldiers could win, despite the catastrophic difference in numbers.
“Hold out!” the squad leader shouted. “Just hold out and keep whittling their numbers down! We’ll get through this, just keep shooting!”
Leon stuck his body out over the edge of the tower battlements and fired another arrow, hitting his thirtieth target in chest. The Valeman dropped, but another Valeman fired an arrow back at Leon. The arrow bounced off Leon’s helmet, having no more effect than giving Leon his thirty-first target.
‘This isn’t so bad,’ Leon thought as he brought the archer who shot at him down with a well-placed arrow. ‘Not nearly as bad as I thought it would be…’
Just then, Leon felt a shock run down his spine, and a tremendous clap of thunder roared over the wall. Or maybe it was just in his head, as when he stumbled back from the battlements, slightly dazed, none of the others looked even the slightest bit perturbed.
“Hey, are you alright?” Alix asked as she rushed forward to steady Leon.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Leon said with some surprise. He shook himself a little, then got back to shooting, as he didn’t have the luxury of time to stop and think about what had just happened.
Leon seemed fine, so Alix, too, went back to shooting at the Valemen, though with markedly less effect than most of the other soldiers. But, with so much practice, she was getting better.
Suddenly, they heard the sound of a horn blast.
“That isn’t a Legion horn,” someone said.
“Get ready!” the squad leader shouted. “They’re probably getting ready for another charge!”
The men quickly got back to shooting, but something drew Leon’s eye: a small group of several hundred Valemen had emerged from the forest, and leading them was a man whose power he couldn’t see through.
Without a word, Leon stopped shooting at the Valemen below the tower and aimed at the leader of the newcomers.
“What’s up?” the squad leader asked. The others had already targeted that group, so it was surprising to see Leon stop what he was doing and turn his attention to them.
“Their leader is a thane,” Leon answered, “looks to be fourth-tier.”
The squad leader paled, and there was a pause in the arrow fire from the others as they alternatively stared at Leon or the thane.
After a moment, the squad leader glared at the others and growled, “Get back to shooting! They still can’t get over the wall!”
[That one can,] murmured Xaphan.
[What was that?] Leon asked.
[The enchantments on this little wall look like it creates a kind of cushion of compressed air that keeps anyone from just jumping clean over,] Xaphan explained. [However, it seems to me like they’ve either decayed from lack of use and maintenance, or were rather haphazardly inscribed to begin with. Knowing the skills—or more accurately, the lack thereof—of the enchanters in this corner of the universe, it’s probably both. A fourth-tier mage should be able to get past this air pocket.]
[Shit…] Leon muttered.
[If you don’t just stand there like a slack-jawed idiot, maybe you can kill that bastard before he makes it to the wall!] Xaphan forcefully said, almost shouting at Leon to get him back to the task at hand.
[Right!] Leon said as he pulled out a few more arrows.
The thane raised his sword, shouted a few words that couldn’t be heard over the sounds of battle, and led the Valemen at his back in a slow march to the wall. These few hundred Valemen all had shields and had raised them into a crude shield wall, causing the arrows fired at them to, more often than not, bounce off harmlessly. The shields were made of thin wood and weren’t enchanted, though, so a few lucky shots fired at the right angle allowed arrows to pierce through.
Leon breathed deeply, then fired off a shot at the thane. However, the thane seemed ready for it, and easily sidestepped the arrow. Leon stared in shock, then fired another arrow. Again, the thane dodged, then smugly smiled at the tower.
[He’s mocking us,] Xaphan said angrily.
[I know…] Leon replied. He could feel the demon’s quiet rage, and it started to affect him as well. He glared at the thane confidently walking toward the wall, smiling at the tower as if none of the soldiers atop it could do anything to harm him.
Leon was determined to prove the thane wrong. He fired half a dozen arrows as fast as he could at the thane, but all of the shots were dodged with the same ease as before.
To the squad’s frustration and fear, the new group of Valemen climbed the hill and made it to the base of the tower with negligible casualties.
“Kill that one!” the squad leader shouted, pointing at the thane. He had trusted Leon to kill the Valeman, but now he had made it to the wall. The rest of the squad aimed and fired at the thane, but after hearing the shout, the Valeman ducked behind a shield of his own, and the arrows failed to harm him.
Then he laughed as loudly as he could and jumped with all of his might. The Valeman rocketed into the air, then slowed when he hit the air pocket. He didn’t stop, though; his hand reached out for the battlements and found purchase, and the thane hauled himself up onto the ramparts. He had made it atop the wall.
“Shoot him! Kill him!” the squad leader insistently shouted. Seeing the thane get past the defensive enchantment terrified him, and he was almost hysterical.
The thane grinned at the soldier at the top of the tower, then started to menacingly walk to the tower door on the rampart.
“I’m going to come up there and kill every single one of you!” the thane shouted with glee. “If you’re smart, you’d lay down your weapons and wait for your death, for I’m going to make the last man’s death long and painful!” The thane cackled and blocked the next volley of arrows with his shield.
Leon frowned. “I’m going downstairs. He won’t get past me,” he said with determination.
The squad leader glanced at Leon like he was insane. “If you… Good luck,” he said apprehensively. He was going to try and argue for Leon to stay, but he saw the look in Leon’s eye and knew that Leon wasn’t going to listen. “Target the rest of the Valemen! Kill them all!” the squad leader yelled, redirecting fire away from the thane and back to the hundreds of Valemen below them.
Leon, meanwhile, darted down the stairs of the tower. Alix made to follow, but Leon shook his head at her. “Stay here and keep shooting, I’ve got this,” he said. Alix wasn’t happy, but she stayed.
Once he was alone, Leon took another deep breath. Now that he was inside, he could feel the oncoming storm all the more intensely. The distant rumblings of thunder echoed in his ears as if lightning had struck the ground next to him, and he felt the urge to go back outside, back to the top of the tower.
However, Leon resisted that temptation. Instead, he crouched down in a corner of the room with his sword drawn and the emerald in his invisibility ring gleaming.
Outside, the thane bashed his shoulder against the door. With every shoulder bash, the wood around the hinges splintered and broke, and the door sagged in its frame.
“I’m coming in, and this shitty door isn’t stopping me!” he shouted. “Get ready, because here I come!”
With a bash synced to his last shout, the door burst open with the lock and hinges torn from the frame, and the thane rushed inside. He expected several of the soldiers to be down there waiting for him, but instead he saw an empty room. He almost couldn’t believe his good fortune, so he smiled and made his way for the stairs.
Invisible, Leon silently crept up behind the thane, and lunged forward with his sword as soon as the Valeman’s back was turned. The thane’s defenses were lowered, so the sword sank in deep, sliding between his ribs.
The thane let loose an ear-splitting scream and tried to turn, but Leon just twisted his hips and sliced the Valeman’s chest open. The thane fell to the floor, mortally wounded. He glared at Leon, who had reappeared as soon as his sword touched the Valeman. The thane struggled to push himself up, but Leon didn’t give him the time; he raised his sword and plunged it down into the thane’s neck, separating the thane’s head from his shoulders.
[HAHAHA! He wasn’t expecting that, now was he?! Maybe he might’ve sensed something if he was paying more attention and wasn’t so arrogant!] Xaphan shouted in glee from Leon’s soul realm.
For his part, Leon remained quiet. He could barely hear Xaphan over the roar of the thunder in his ears. He only took a brief moment to stare down at the dead thane before he sprinted back up to get back to the fight.
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