Leon rushed back up the stairs to the top of the tower, returning his sword to its sheath as he went. When he made it to the top, he was confronted by the squad leader and two of the other soldiers brandishing their spears at him until they realized who it was.
“That thane’s…” the squad leader began hesitantly.
“He’s dead,” Leon confirmed. “But, the door was torn off. I’d recommend sending some of the guys here to fix it.”
The squad leader stared at him for a moment in disbelief before Leon’s words sunk in. “Right!” he said a moment later. “You two, go take care of the door!” he directed to the two men at his side.
“Back to shooting,” Leon muttered as he took his bow off his shoulder and returned to the battlements.
Arrows whizzed past Hakon’s head and feet, and more bounced off his shield. He’d led his men to the base of the tower overlooking the door and endured withering fire from the most heavily fortified place on the wall. Fortunately, though, he’d only lost a handful of men. When they reached the locked doors, the rate of fire his group had to take was greatly reduced, as the Legion soldiers were firing at a disadvantageous angle and there were a few Valemen with bows shooting back.
“Why is this damned door not open?” Hakon demanded of the handful of third-tier warriors standing before the door with greataxes.
“The thing’s magicked shut!” the warrior in charge, a chief of a subordinate tribe, answered. “Our axes bounce right off!”
Hakon frowned. He didn’t want to jump over the wall, as he’d be left alone surrounded by at least forty Legion soldiers. He trusted his thanes to take the other towers they’d targeted, but he wanted to bust down the door.
“Move,” he said, shoving past the tribal chief. “And give me your ax!”
The chief frowned, but Hakon wasn’t going to let him say no; the Great Chief grabbed the ax out of the lesser chief’s hands and approached the door. Hakon had his own ax strapped to his back, of course, but he wasn’t about to let his blade be dulled upon a Legion door, and neither was he going to subject his hatchet to the same indignity.
Hakon took a deep breath to focus his mind and channel his magic. He could feel the wind around him pick up slightly, and the air around the ax-head compress itself into a sharp blade. Hakon then wound himself up, then brought the ax down upon the door with terrific might…
… and it rebounded right off the door, to the dismay of the watching Valemen. But, Hakon wasn’t deterred. He saw the splinters that came from the door, and he knew that despite the enchantments, he could get through. He heaved the ax above his head and smashed it into the door again. Then he did this a third time, and a fourth. He kept swinging, and even started to more actively use his magic, causing the air blade he covered the ax with to explode on impact with the door.
The door started to shake with every chop, and the Valemen started to take heart, as they could see it was only a matter of time before their Great Chief brought the door down.
In the tower above Hakon, Jean could see the Valeman breaking down the door. He’d directed some of the archers to shoot at him, but the other Valemen were covering him with their shields.
“This bastard…” Jean muttered. “Squad Three! Get down to the secondary wall!”
Immediately, ten men were led by a third-tier mage down from the tower and to the crude walls constructed around the door. Even if the Valemen broke the door down, the hole they’d create would be small enough that a single squad could keep them from coming through—especially once the bodies started piling up.
Only, Jean was hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
“Get the rocks,” he ordered another third-tier mage. The soldier in question then disappeared down the stairs, returning a minute later with a bag of large heavy stones. Four other soldiers had followed him, bringing enough stones for every man on the tower to start throwing and dropping them with impunity.
Meanwhile, Hakon kept chopping his way through the door. He was making slow but steady progress, chipping splinters away from the door with every strike and shaking the hinges loose. But then, stones began to fall upon the shields of the Valemen.
Those shields had been enough to protect the Valemen from the rain of arrows, but the stones were far weightier, and smashed right through the shields. Valemen started to drop like flies, despite their shields. In just a few seconds, four men around Hakon fell from trying to block the falling stones.
“DAMNIT!” Hakon shouted as another man rushed forward to protect him, only to shatter his arm blocking another stone.
Hakon clenched his jaw and just kept chopping through the door, even as the stones fell around him. But then, finally, with one last mighty blow, the door gave way and was blasted off the wall.
“FOLLOW ME!” Hakon roared as he stormed through the doorway. The enormous crowd of Valemen surged forward to follow him, but they couldn’t get through in any kind of hurry.
What greeted them on the inside were another set of walls. They weren’t enchanted and had been clearly made in a hurry, but the men in the crude towers at the far corners started shooting at the Valemen immediately, so there wasn’t any time for them to exploit the walls’ weakness.
His wind barrier caused the first arrow to slide past Hakon’s cheek instead of into his eye, leaving a bloody cut just below his right eye. The handful of Valemen directly behind the Great Chief weren’t so lucky, and were hit in the chest, stomach, or thighs. They were down for the count.
“AAARGH!” Hakon howled in rage. He channeled his wind magic into four blades and fired them into the towers with all the force he could muster. The soldiers in the towers could only watch in horror as three of their comrades were ripped apart by Hakon’s magic. The fourth blade Hakon had slung at one of the thin wooden columns that supported one of the towers, slicing it clean through. The tower began to slowly tilt before, seconds later, collapsing entirely.
The Legion soldiers within the other tower panicked, while their squad leader bellowed, “SHOOT HIM! SHOOT HIM!” Eventually, the squad leader’s three remaining men got a hold of themselves and fired their arrows at Hakon, who was slowly advancing toward them.
“Not going to happen!” Hakon shouted as he activated his wind magic again. The arrows wobbled in flight and were deflected away from him, harmlessly impacting the wall behind the Valeman chief.
Hakon calmly walked to the tower, then hacked away at the columns with his borrowed ax. They splintered before his strength, and he quickly stepped back as the tower came crashing down. From behind him, the Valemen came sprinting forward, slashing and stabbing at the Legion soldiers as they tried to extricate themselves from the rubble.
Hakon, however, left them alone. Instead, he stared at the wall, then called forth as much of his power as he could. Just getting through the door and dealing with those towers had cost him much of his mana reserves, but he knew he still had more within him. He unleashed this power with a great swing of his ax, and a wind blade over ten feet long smashed through the flimsy inner wall.
The Valemen gave a great cry of victory as they spilled out into the fort, and Hakon tossed the borrowed ax back to its owner.
Above, Jean watched with a grim expression as the Valemen started to make their way through the tents, searching for soldiers to kill or loot to plunder.
“Second Squad!” he yelled. “Fire on those in the fort!”
Ten of the thirty-five men left in the tower turned around to fire at their new targets, but as they did so, a lucky arrow from a Valeman bow struck one in the eye, killing him instantly.
As the men next to him began to lose their cool, both from their fallen comrade and from their breached wall, Jean shouted, “Keep calm! Drag him to the side and do your jobs!”
His shout brought the soldiers back to reality, and they quickly followed his orders. This was no time to mourn.
Moving on, Jean quickly shouted, “Fourth Squad! Get downstairs and head off any Valemen who try to break through the tower doors!”
With those orders, only about twenty men remained at the top of the tower to shoot down at the Valemen. Making matters worse, the Valemen could now use what was left of the inner walls as cover from the arrow fire, and since they were moving through the doors, they weren’t stuck at the foot of the tower—though there were still a considerable number bunched up at the door, waiting to squeeze through.
Hakon turned his eyes to the tower. He allowed the subordinate tribesmen to set about looting the camp, as there were plenty of warriors from his own tribe dutifully standing at his back, with many more slowly filtering through the door.
“Let’s go kill them,” Hakon said with a brutal smile. The Valemen behind him raised their weapons and shouted a war cry, then sprinted for the stairs. The doors to the tower were on the wall; there had been other entrances down at ground level, but they had been in the way of the inner wall, and so had been covered up.
Suddenly, Hakon heard a shout from somewhere further down the wall. It wasn’t distinguishable, but it was repeated a few seconds later louder and clearer. Hakon smiled, as he recognized it as Hrorekr’s voice.
“Over here!” he called out.
“Chief!” Hrorekr shouted. Hakon was a little startled at his appearance when he finally came into sight; he was covered in blood, most of which came from his numerous injuries, and his shirt was in tatters.
“What happened? Are you alright?” Hakon asked once Hrorekr ran up to him.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just ran into another fourth-tier mage, is all. We fought, and though he did a number on me, I still won…” Hrorekr smiled reassuringly at Hakon. “I might not be able to continue fighting for the time being, but the Southerners have lost a powerful mage!”
Hakon laughed and clapped his thane on the shoulder. “Well done!” he praised. “Well done! Now, I’m going to go finish this. Have the horn sounded; we may not be able to get through at other points, but we can get through here!”
“Got it,” Hrorekr said, and he raced off to find a hornsman.
Hakon, meanwhile, turned his attention back to Jean’s tower. The Great Chief breathed deep for a few seconds, giving his soul realm and heart time enough to infuse more magic into his blood, then he started walking toward the tower doors up on the wall. The Valemen who got there before him were having trouble opening them, which he guessed meant the soldiers had barricaded themselves within.
‘That won’t work for me, though,’ Hakon thought. As he walked, he regained enough power for one more wind blade, and he prepped just such an attack as he pushed past the crowd of Valemen on the wall. He paid no mind to the occasional arrow that hit the shields around him; his attention never wavered from the door.
The Valemen in his way parted, giving him an open shot at the door, which he took. He extended his fist, then opened his hand, firing his prepared wind blade into the door. It sliced clean through the door and most of the frame, and Hakon heard shouts of pain from the other side.
Without missing a beat, Hakon walked right up to the door and kicked it with all of his fifth-tier strength. The broken door almost exploded inward, and Hakon darted in with his hatchet flashing. In an instant, the three soldiers holding the door were killed, though they had already been injured by his wind blade.
The other ten Legion soldiers in the room stared at him in shock, before three of them attacked Hakon with spears. Hakon nimbly dodged them, then swept them aside with his hatchet, ripping them out of the hands of the soldiers and breaking their fingers. They didn’t have the time to process what just happened, though, as in a flash, Hakon’s hatchet opened all of their throats in one swift motion.
As he did this, more Valemen poured into the tower, and the remaining soldiers were quickly overwhelmed. The Valemen were merciless, and all were stabbed, hacked, or bludgeoned to death.
Hakon started making his way upstairs. He moved at a slow, confident walk, as he didn’t think there were any soldiers around who could stop him. His thoughts were confirmed when he arrived at the top of the tower and saw the stunned faces of the soldiers still there. The strongest man there was Jean, a fourth-tier mage, but the soldiers could still threaten him with their numbers.
Well, they could’ve if Hakon’s Valemen weren’t following him. They rushed out and engaged the soldiers in combat while Hakon and Jean stared each other down. Hakon towered over Jean, and he sneered at the soldier.
“You’re done, now, Southerner,” Hakon said hatefully, practically spitting the words out.
“Not yet,” Jean said while raising his sword.
Hakon smiled, then charged at the soldier. Jean was fast and strong, certainly more so than Hakon was expecting, and Jean had the training and experience to be genuinely threatening. Jean blocked every strike and dodged every shield bash Hakon threw his way. He even threw in a few counter-moves, but Hakon pressed forward, pushing Jean to the edge of the tower.
As strong as Jean was, as strong as a fourth-tier mage with the proper training was compared to a fifth-tier who had more or less muddled his way through the magical tiers, Jean simply couldn’t get past Hakon’s shield. Every counter-attack Jean threw his way bounced harmlessly off the shield, and when Jean found his back pressed against the stone battlements, he knew that it was all but over.
Still, he didn’t give up. He kept swinging his sword at Hakon, even as the Valeman’s hatchet bit into his thigh. Jean still didn’t give in; he swung his fist at Hakon after the Valemen parried with his shield and knocked Jean’s sword from his hand.
Hakon’s next move was vicious. He brought his hatchet down on Jean’s outstretched fist as he dodged, chopping Jean’s hand off at the wrist.
Jean screamed in pain, but this still wasn’t going to make him stop resisting the Valeman chief that had led an army to his fort. Every second he could keep the Valemen at the fort was another second his men might be saved, and it was another second that the people in the surrounding villages would be safe.
So, the fourth-tier soldier fought through the pain in his injured leg and threw himself at Hakon’s waist, trying to tackle the larger Valeman to the ground. Hakon, however, remained standing, and after tossing away his hatchet and shield, he wrapped his arms around Jean and lifted the soldier into the air. Then, with some difficulty from the struggling Jean, he lifted the soldier high above his head, and he threw him from the top of the tower.
Under normal conditions, such a fall would hardly be anything to Jean. But, with his injuries, he couldn’t properly brace himself with his magic, and he hit the ground with a gut-wrenching crunch.
From the top of the tower, a slightly-winded Hakon stared down at the motionless Jean and smiled.
“THIS FORT IS OURS!” he roared. As he did, he heard the sound of a Valeman sounding a horn. Hrorekr had found a hornsman, and now the entire Valeman army began to converge on the breach.
There were still a few towers to deal with, but the Valemen had made it through the wall.
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