Bonus chapter 2 of 3 ;)
Hakon and Hrorekr walked slowly, making sure that their steps were taken with care. This ensured that, despite their slower walking speed, they reached the top of the hill much faster than any of the other Valemen that had tried.
As they slowly, inexorably approached the door of the tower, more and more soldiers started shooting at them. However, Hakon’s wind barrier was robust, and every arrow was harmlessly deflected away.
Seeing the lack of effect their arrows were having, Leon shouted to the soldiers, “Shoot at the other Valemen!” Then, he turned and ran downstairs, with Alix right behind him. He repeated his order on every floor, and to his slight surprise, none of the soldiers so much as batted an eye; they all simply followed his command and started shooting the more vulnerable Valemen.
[I think maybe they’re starting to respect you a little…] Xaphan remarked.
[Maybe is the key word, I think…] Leon replied as he came to a stop on the ground floor.
The squad leader approached Leon when the latter arrived, breathing a subtle sigh of relief and saying, “I’m glad you’re here. I wasn’t looking forward to my squad defending the door on our own…”
“Just stand back with your spears out, kill any of them that get past me,” Leon said as he approached the door.
“Will do!” the squad leader acknowledged. He quickly started getting his people organized into a loose spear wall between Leon and the stairs.
As Leon stood there and waited, he glanced at Alix standing next to him.
“A fifth-tier mage is about to break down that door and standing next to me isn’t going to be the best place when he does,” he said.
“I’m not leaving,” Alix said firmly as she drew the sword that used to be Sam’s.
Leon was silent for a moment, then said, “I could very well be killed in a matter of seconds. It would be safer for you and better for everyone if you were to join the spear wall.”
Alix glared at him, then slowly shook her head.
[This girl is stubborn,] Xaphan observed. [I don’t think she’s going to back down, young mage.]
“You’re still in the first-tier,” Leon continued, speaking bluntly, “I don’t want you to get hurt or to get in the way.”
Alix frowned for a moment, before deciding that her own pride could be set aside and her duties as Leon’s squire took more precedence. “I’ll be right behind you,” she said as she took a few steps further into the room to join the squad at their backs.
“Good, because I think it’s going to get heated in here…” Leon said as the door suddenly shuddered from a tremendous impact. The chairs, tables, and other wooden barricades securing the door shook and loosened.
Outside, Hakon chopped and hacked away at the door with his ax. He was in such a rage that he barely even stopped to breathe. Hrorekr stood off to the side, waiting for the door to swing open. Both Valemen were furious in ways that words couldn’t describe, having just seen Hjalmar and Bragi die.
After a few minutes, the door to the tower was barely more than a few splinters, and Hakon began to fire small wind blades into the mass of furniture on the other side. These wind blades sliced through much of the barricade but didn’t penetrate all the way through. Despite this, the barricade swiftly began to crumble.
With one last great swing of his ax, Hakon rocketed another wind blade into the barricade, and it collapsed. Hakon took a step back to catch his breath while Hrorekr charged in through the opening.
And he was faced with Leon, suited up in his black armor with his sword drawn, and a dozen other soldiers with their spears at the ready. Still, Hrorekr didn’t hesitate; he barreled into the room with a pair of seax shortswords in hand.
However, he barely made it into the room before Leon raised his left hand and engulfed Hrorekr in a blast of fire. Hrorekr had prepared for something like this and channeled as much of his magic as he could into his skin, to protect himself from the heat and the flames. When the fire died down, he was left horribly burned, but still charging at Leon.
“You’re going to die, Southerner!” he roared as he stabbed toward Leon, hoping his speed and ferocity would carry him through to the win, or at least would distract Leon long enough for Hakon to come in and finish him off.
But, Leon wasn’t so easily shocked or intimidated. Instead, he slightly twisted his waist, allowing Hrorekr’s strike to connect, but slide off his armor. This put him in a prime position to slice through Hrorekr’s left heel, which he eagerly took advantage of. With a quick flick of his wrist, Hrorekr was sent stumbling down onto the floor.
Leon couldn’t follow-up, though, because Hakon came barging into the tower with his hatchet and shield at the ready. Leon immediately used another fire blast, but Hakon crouched behind his shield and countered with a gust of wind. The two magics clashed in between Leon and Hakon, letting only a few sharp slivers of wind through to bounce of Leon’s armor and a couple lonely embers to be extinguished on contact with Hakon’s shield.
Hakon rushed forward, intent on not letting Leon get another blast in. He went shield first, keeping his vitals as protected as he could. As a wind mage, he moved incredibly quickly, and closed on Leon before the younger mage could react. Hakon slammed his shield into Leon’s chest, lifting him off his feet and hurling him backward.
Leon hit the ground hard; the impact pushed all the air out of his lungs. Hakon raised his hatchet to bring it down on Leon’s helmet, but Leon snuck his left hand out from under the shield that kept him pinned and let loose with a third gout of flame.
Hakon was caught completely off-guard and jerked his head back, raising a wind barrier as he did. The fire twisted into this wind barrier like a tornado centered on Hakon. If Leon had been able to sustain it, he could’ve kept Hakon pinned, but unfortunately for him, the fire was gone almost as quickly as he summoned it.
While Hakon was distracted, one of the first-tier soldiers lunged forward with his spear, trying to stab the Great Chief in the knee. However, Hakon sensed his approach and sent the man flying into the wall with a burst of wind. It was only a minor setback, but it gave Leon the time he needed to recover, though the soldier’s ribs were almost certainly broken.
Leon quickly analyzed his options. The brief struggle with Hakon already had him convinced he wasn’t going to beat the Valeman in a straight fight, but if the rest of the squad got involved, he might be able to win. On the other hand, that would also open them up to being injured or killed and leave the ground floor defenseless. To make matters worse, his left arm was starting to burn. He’d ascended to the fourth-tier, which helped to protect him from the demonfire, but it was still taking it’s toll.
In an instant, Leon made up his mind. Instead of staying and fighting, they’d rely on the second floor’s defenses.
“FALL BACK TO THE SECOND FLOOR!” Leon shouted. Some of the soldiers hesitated for a moment, as they were only facing two enemies, but those two Valemen also happened to be the strongest Valemen left alive. Leon had also left Hrorekr badly injured, but no one had finished him off, so the thane was struggling to his feet with one of his seax’s in hand, ready to start killing the soldiers.
“You heard him, fall back!” the squad leader shouted, and the rest of the soldiers stopped hesitating and sprang into action. They sprinted for the stairs, while Leon darted backward, placing himself between the squad and Hakon.
Hakon glared at them but didn’t pursue. Despite these few setbacks, he didn’t think they’d manage to escape the thousands of Valemen outside. So, Hakon took the opportunity to help Hrorekr to his feet.
“Get back outside and rest,” Hakon said to his thane with a worried look. Hrorekr looked like he wanted to argue, but he kept his mouth shut and limped back out of the door.
Alix, too, looked like she didn’t want to leave, but Leon insisted. “Close the hatch,” he’d said, and Alix frowned, but sprinted up the stairs after the squad.
“So, then, Dark Warrior, what is your name?” Hakon asked. His tone was light and casual, but his killing intent soared, and he stared daggers at Leon.
Leon’s own killing intent had spiked, resisting Hakon’s and keeping Leon from feeling any weakness.
“If you do not identify yourself, you will die nameless!” Hakon shouted as he lunged forward, swinging his hatchet while keeping his shield up.
Leon dodged to the side and countered, targeting Hakon’s wrist. However, the Valeman was faster, and Hakon stepped just out of danger before turning and charging at Leon again. Leon had to stay on his toes to keep ahead of Hakon, but he couldn’t get a good hit with the Valeman’s shield up, so he raised his left arm and let off another blast of fire, scorching his arm and filling his nose with the stench of his own burning arm.
As expected, Hakon huddled behind his shield to prevent himself from being burned, and Leon took the opportunity to strike low, aiming for Hakon’s exposed shins. But, just as his blade was about to connect, Hakon raised his leg, letting Leon’s sword taste nothing but air.
“Nice try,” Hakon said with an enormous smile. He may hate Leon, but he was clearly enjoying the fight immensely.
Leon himself couldn’t help but smile through the pain of his burned arm, though it couldn’t be seen due to his helmet. He was in great danger, but his perceptions were as high as they could be, and his body was filled with enough adrenaline that his now-useless left arm barely stung; he wasn’t really having fun, but he was certainly excited.
Their exchange of blows only lasted a few seconds, just long enough for the soldiers to finish filing through into the second floor. Alix glanced back down at Hakon with a look of disgust, then to Leon with a look of worry, then reached over to the hatch that would block the top of the stairs and slammed it shut. The surrounding soldiers then immediately began to pile prepared bits of other furniture atop it as a crude barricade.
Hearing the hatch slam shut, Hakon briefly looked up, only to see a glyph painted onto the hatch. It was a light rune with half a dozen amplification runes surrounding it. It instantly flashed with a brightness that momentarily turned the entire first floor of the tower white, and left Hakon temporarily blind.
Hakon growled in frustration, then said, “That’s a good trick,” but Leon didn’t answer. He was looking to the walls in dismay; specifically, there were three large sheets of cloth that were stuck to the walls covering a number of fire runes that Leon arranged to be drawn. The fire runes weren’t activating.
[Looks like they’re not going to activate, someone must have drawn them wrong!] Xaphan shouted in indignation.
[No time to dwell,] Leon responded. Leon hurriedly began to activate his invisibility ring. His original back-up plan if the fire runes didn’t work was to blast those on the ground floor with demonfire or attack with his sword while the they were blinded, but the Valeman chief kept his shield raised and kept turning to face Leon despite squeezing his eyes closed. So, Leon had to improvise.
[He’s a fifth-tier mage, he can use magic senses to find you,] Xaphan said.
[Will my ring work?] Leon asked in slight panic.
[Maybe. Try to keep your aura retracted,] Xaphan answered, panic seeping into his voice as well.
By the time Hakon opened his eyes, Leon was nowhere to be seen.
“I know you didn’t leave, little boy,” Hakon taunted as he spun around, his eyes taking in every detail within the tower. “If you don’t come out, I’m going to burn everyone in this tower alive, including that girl you were with… though I may have some fun with her first…”
When he didn’t get a response, he shouted, “Block the door!” and one of the Valemen waiting outside for Hakon to finish stepped in front of the broken door, preventing anyone from escaping.
Hakon licked his lips; once he killed Leon, he could take whatever made the boy invisible for himself!
The Great Chief then stopped turning around and lowered his shield, presenting the perfect target. It was a risk, but one he was more than willing to take. He also closed his eyes and held his breath, straining his ears for any sound he might be able to hear over the rain and thunder.
Suddenly, his eyes snapped open and he slammed the butt of his hatchet into the air. There was a metallic clang, despite not seeming to hit anything, but an instant later Leon materialized and was thrown across the room. He hit the wall hard enough to drive the air from his lungs again and he dropped to the ground.
“You’re just full of surprises,” Hakon said with a hint of both admiration and hatred, “but this is where you die…”
As Hakon strode over to Leon, the latter tried to grasp his sword and rise, but Hakon arrived at his side first and stomped down on his right forearm. Something snapped, and Leon screamed in pain. Hakon then dropped his shield, crouched down, and grabbed Leon by the neck with his now free hand, lifting him into the air and slamming him against the wall of the tower.
Turning his head toward the door, Hakon shouted, “Get in here!”
Now that they were confident that Hakon was done with the wind blades, the Valemen waiting outside rushed into the tower.
“Deal with that door,” Hakon said, nodding up toward the hatch at the top of the stairs, and the Valemen charged toward the second floor.
“Now, what should I do with you?” Hakon asked himself as he faced Leon again. His grip was tight enough that Leon wasn’t going anywhere, but not so tight that Leon hadn’t been able to regain his breath in these few seconds.
“Should I burn you alive?” Hakon continued. “Or maybe I should have your ribs torn from your chest, then burn you… Hmm, yeah that second one sounds much better…”
Hakon began to squeeze, and Leon found himself no longer able to breathe. Leon’s vision slowly began to dim, and his mind became muddled.
[Stay with me!] shouted Xaphan. [Use my fire! Do something! Don’t just let this happen!]
But Leon couldn’t process what Xaphan was saying. In fact, he was so close to passing out that he thought he began to hallucinate, for he heard the deep blast of a Legion horn in the distance…
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