Chapter 160 - Battle for the Fort VIII

Bonus chapter 3 of 3 ;)

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Leon was not hallucinating when he heard the blast of a Legion horn.  It was so loud as to be heard by every Valeman surrounding the last tower even over the storm.

The Valemen weren’t the only ones to hear the horn, and the soldiers in the tower paused for a moment in disbelief as they looked around at each other, trying to confirm what they had just heard.

“KEEP SHOOTING!” shouted one squad leader.  “THAT WAS A LEGION HORN!  REINFORCEMENTS HAVE ARRIVED!  KEEP SHOOTING!”

The soldiers gave a great cry of relief and jubilation, then got right back to shooting arrows into the sea of Valemen still on the hill.

The Valemen on the edge of the massed war party were the first to see the distinctive red armor of the Royal Legions.  As the companies and battalions appeared, the rain lessened and the storm clouds began to break, almost as if the newcomers were bringing the light with them.

The forest was thick enough that the Legion shield walls had to break into their companies, but that was hardly a troubling matter for their leaders, the fifth-tier Tribunes and sixth-tier Legates who led the way.  It was from these leaders that wind blades appeared to rip apart the closest Valemen, that spikes of ice and rock thrust forward to impale them, that great gouts of flame and even the odd bolt of golden lightning tore through their ranks.

The unprepared, severely under-equipped, and extremely undisciplined Valemen fell before the advancing line of soldiers like wheat before a scythe, with all Valemen missed by the leading mages falling to the blades in the shield wall behind them.  There was no mercy for the Valemen, and certainly no quarter.  The Legions pressed inward, surrounding the hordes of Valemen and squeezing them in between their ranks and the tower.

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Just as Hakon was choking Leon into unconsciousness, the horn sounded, signaling the appearance and advance of the Royal Legions.  For a moment, he turned his attention away from Leon to stare out of the broken door, and his grip on Leon’s neck loosened just enough to allow Leon to take a shallow breath.  That one breath was all he needed to regain a measure of clarity to his mind, and Leon painfully raised his broken, but unburnt, right arm—he’d started to feel like he had overused his left arm, as it hurt far more than his broken arm.

Seeing the motion out of the corner of his eye, Hakon turned back to face Leon, only to find himself staring directly into the younger mage’s palm just as deep red fire erupted from the latter’s fingers.  Hakon instinctively dropped Leon and turned his head away, but it was too late, the fire touched his skin and immediately began to scorch his face.  Hakon Fire-Beard’s epithet became more literal than intended as his facial hair caught aflame as well.

The Valeman chief bellowed in pain and rage.  He conjured his wind magic and extinguished the demonfire, but the damage had been done; his beard had almost entirely been burned away, leaving the acrid stench of burnt hair to permeate the tower, while the skin on the left side of his face had been horrifically melted.  Additionally, his left eye had begun to boil in the heat of the flame, and though Hakon managed to put out the fire quick enough to save his eye, it had filled with blood and he could only see red.

“You… BASTARD!” Hakon roared as he kicked at Leon, who was doubled over on the ground where he had been dropped, trying to regain his breath and struggle to his feet.  Fortunately, without his eye Hakon’s aim was a little off, and Leon was able to roll out of the way while grabbing his dropped sword with both hands at the same time.

Leon sprang to his feet and darted to his right as quickly as he could; he could see Hakon’s red eye was probably blind, so that was the side of the Valeman chief that he wanted to stay in.  Plus, Hakon had dropped his shield when he had grabbed Leon, leaving him open for retaliation.

Just after he darted to the right, Leon lunged forward.  Hakon had a split-second delay in his reaction from having to turn his head to keep up, and that moment was enough for Leon’s strike to land.  Hakon was forced to raise his left arm to block the attack, and Leon’s sword impaled his forearm.

Hakon grit his teeth and twisted his arm, ripping Leon’s sword from his hands and aggravating both of Leon’s severely injured arms.  The Great Chief then raised his other arm and let loose with a wind blast.  It wasn’t as directed as a wind blade, but it wasn’t designed to slice.  Instead, it hit Leon square in the chest and threw him backward.  Hakon was running low on magic power and pushing Leon back was about all he could manage.  In fact, his wind blast was so weak that Leon wasn’t even thrown back into the wall and was able to land on his feet.

Then, rather then try to keep his distance, Leon surged forward, preparing his right arm for one more blast of fire.  He’d mostly used his left arm for magical attacks, but by now it was starting to throb with pain, and Leon knew that he was close to his physical limit with regard to using that arm for Xaphan’s fire, which left him with no other choice but to continue using his comparatively less-injured right arm.

Hakon chopped at the charging Leon with his hatchet, extending the range of the relatively small weapon with wind magic.  Leon ducked out of the way and threw himself to the right, back into Hakon’s blind spot.  Hakon turned to face Leon, and saw the young man extending his right arm again.  Knowing he wasn’t going to be able to react in time, Hakon conjured a wind barrier to protect himself from the coming fire.

But, that fire didn’t come.  Instead, Leon stopped and cheekily smiled at the Valeman chief.  Hakon, of course, knew exactly why.  Leon was obviously aware—probably based on Hakon’s wavering aura—that the wind mage was close to running out of power and wasting a wind barrier like that was something he couldn’t afford to do again.

Hakon felt desperation entering his mind, and he roared in anger as he charged forward, reaching for Leon’s throat.  Leon, however, ducked underneath Hakon’s arms and let loose with demonfire upon the Valeman’s left leg while he rolled out of the way.

With a shout of exertion, Hakon conjured even more wind, using it to again hurl Leon back and extinguish the fire.

But with that, Hakon was effectively out of magic power.  His blood lacked mana, and he sucked down every breath of air like it was his last.

Leon wasn’t doing much better, with the pain of using his broken arm for Xaphan’s fire growing with every second, and his body feeling far too heavy to keep dodging as he had been.  If the situation weren’t so desperate, he would’ve probably collapsed due to exhaustion.

And yet, the two started to stagger closer to each other, intent on finishing the fight.  So intent were they that they had forgotten about the other Valemen on the stairs.  Of course, these other warriors were far too terrified to jump into the middle of a magic fight; plus, they too had heard the Legion horn, inspiring even more fear and dread among their ranks.

But, just as Leon and Hakon almost came close enough to resume their battle, a third-tier Valeman sprinted into the tower with a wild look in his eyes.

“Great Chief!” he shouted.  “The Southern army has-“

Before the Valeman could finish his panicked report, a stone the size of his fist smashed into the back of his skull, shattering it into pieces and killing him instantly.

Leon stared at the doorway, realizing only now that the rain had slowed to only a gentle drizzle and sunlight was starting to peak through the clouds.  A figure appeared in the doorway with his back to this sunlight, casting his face and any defining features in shadow.

“Look at all these whore children…” he whispered as a small boulder the size of his modest torso gently floated through the doorway behind him.  “… I should probably take care of you, to keep you from fucking your close relatives or eating animals raw or whatever else it is you barbarians do…”

Once he was done speaking, the boulder exploded outward, peppering the Valemen on the stairs with thousands of sharp, tiny pebbles.  There were about one hundred Valemen on the stairs, and more than seventy were killed with that one attack, and all of the rest were injured.

Seeing this, Hakon screamed in fury, and he sprang toward the dark figure.

The figure clicked his tongue in disgust, then, almost casually, backhanded Hakon and threw him across the room.  The Great Chief of the Valemen hit the ground and didn’t move again.

After a moment of silence, the dark figure glanced over at Leon.  “Are you in charge here?” he asked, his disgusted tone softening before Leon—who, based simply on what he was wearing, the newcomer could tell clearly wasn’t allied with Hakon.

“… Who’s… asking?” Leon asked while his tired legs struggled to keep him upright.

The dark figure seemed to chuckle silently, and then he stepped forward into better light, revealing his custom-made armor, made to look nearly identical to the standard crimson Legion armor.  It’s differences lay in the details; it was decorated with a golden bull emblazoned across the chest and he wore a purple sash across his waist, signifying his extremely high rank, while much of the rest of the armor was gilded with glowing enchanted silver.  “I am the fuckin’ Consul of the North, in command of all the Legion soldiers of the Northern Territories,” he said with the pride of a noble and the tongue of a commoner.  “Now I’ll ask one more time, and one more time only: are you in charge?  And if not, where can I find the fuckin’ commander?”

Leon was quiet for a moment.  He was only a squire, and there were several squad leaders still upstairs who technically outranked him.  However, he was easily the strongest mage among the fort survivors, and the squad leaders had deferred to him when it came to the defense of the tower.

“I am in charge… of the survivors here…” he finally hesitantly said.

“There, that wasn’t so fuckin’ hard, was it?” the Consul said, the curse word rolling so naturally off his tongue that Leon barely noticed it.  “Your men are safe, I’ve led three Legions here from Cyrenaica, and they’re busy dealing with the remains of these barbarian shits outside.”

Leon could hardly believe his ears or eyes.  “Are… you really here?” he asked.

“HAHAHA!” the Consul boomed.  “Yes, we’re really here!  You must truly be tired to be so doubtful of what’s before your eyes!”

The Consul started walking toward Leon while more Legion soldiers started to flood into the tower.  These soldiers made their way through the fallen Valemen, killing any who still breathed.  One of these men, a fifth-tier Tribune with a vicious-looking halberd, started moving toward Hakon, who had been knocked unconscious by the Consul’s dismissive slap.

“Don’t kill that one,” the Consul said, “that one will be brought back to the fort and executed publicly.”

“Yes, Sir,” the Tribune responded.  He then picked Hakon up by the scruff of his shirt and dragged him out of the tower.

“Now, then,” the Consul said, turning his attention back to Leon, “what’s your name?”

“… Leon Ursus…”

“’Ursus’?  Oh, you’re from the east?  One of Torfinn’s people?” the Consul asked with a look of pleasant surprise.

Leon nodded.

“Well, that’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it?  How did you get here?”

“Came south, joined the Knight Academy,” Leon answered.  His legs were close to giving out on him, and he could barely think straight with everything going on.

But, once he said where he was from, an odd look appeared on the Consul’s face.  He suddenly remembered receiving a letter from the capital inquiring as to a ‘Leon Ursus’ from the Knight Academy.

“… You should get some rest,” the Consul said, clapping Leon on the shoulder, “we can talk more later.  For now, just rest, and know that you’re still alive.”

“Yes, Sir,” Leon responded.  He felt like he could lay down right there and pass out from exhaustion, but instead he forced his legs to carry himself up the stairs to the closed hatch.  “Open up!  All the Valemen are dead!” he shouted.

He could already hear the barricades on the other side being removed, but he also wanted to confirm with the rest of the soldiers that everything was fine.

Once the hatch was opened, he saw the worried and ecstatic faces of Alix and the other two squads on the second floor.

“Is that it?” asked one of the squad leaders.

“We’re still alive?” the other asked.

“Are you injured at all?” Alix asked.

Leon looked from one, to the other, to the last.  “That’s it.  It’s over, we’re all still alive.  And I need some sleep…”

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Chapter 161 - Consul of the North

Chapter 159 - Battle for the Fort VII