Timotheos grabbed his three best men and barely gave them time enough to pack a few days of food and a change of clothes before dragging them to the stables. Lord Justin had sent word to get his four best horses ready, and when Timotheos and his team arrived the stablemen had just finished getting them saddled and ready.
The Saternan horses were lean and muscular, not as large as a courser, but they could run at speeds of over one hundred miles per hour and sustain that pace for several days.
The four men jumped on the horses and sped off, almost knocking over the stablemen who hadn’t gotten out of the way in time. They were in quite the rush and pushed the horses hard. Teira was a long way away, and they intended to get there by the next morning. So, they rapidly rode west, towards the setting sun, until they were out of the city, then turned north.
It was a long night, but the horses lived up to their reputation. The group had made it to an enormous land bridge that led up to the Great Plateau by sunrise and was in Teira just in time for a late breakfast. But none of them had any intention of stopping for food despite their fatigue, as their destination was the only thing on their mind.
When the Isynians arrived in the Bull Kingdom fifteen years ago, they immediately began to create a spy network. It wasn’t to spy on the kingdom, but rather to look for Artorias and Leon. One such spy operated as a baker, and it was his house that Timotheos’ group rode to.
After arriving in Teira, their pace slowed considerably as the baker’s house was far away from the white stone and marble of the richer districts, and as such, the roads were smaller and more cramped. Fortunately for them, most of the people had left their houses to go to work, so despite the slower pace, the four men rode through the streets largely unhindered.
The baker’s place was a small one-story house with dirty timber walls and a wooden roof. It had a path leading to a private backyard with a tall wooden fence, and that’s where the group dismounted their horses. The baker immediately opened his back door and came out to greet them, but Timotheos wasn’t interested in his greetings. He only held out a pouch of coins. The baker grabbed the heavy pouch, but Timotheos didn’t let go. Instead, he pulled the baker in close, and said, “This money is so you can buy some good feed for the horses. Some people in my lord’s employ will arrive in a day or two to pick them up, and if they haven’t eaten…” He left the threat unstated, but the mortal baker was able to pick up on the implication. His face paled, and he nodded furiously.
“Good. Now, my where is my associate?”
“Indoors, good sir.”
Timotheos pushed past the baker and walked into the house. It was dark, filthy, and filled with the stench of mold. Timotheos’ face scrunched up in disgust.
“My Lord pays you too much for this place to be so abhorrent. Get this house cleaned up!” The baker nodded so fast that he had cracking sounds come from his neck.
Adrianos heard Timotheos’ voice and poked his head out from around a corner.
“Cousin! It’s been too long!” Timotheos pulled Adrianos into an affectionate headlock, then dragged him out of the house.
“Argh! Where are we going?! Shouldn’t we talk inside?” Adrianos sputtered.
“We’re going north. We can talk on the way.” Timotheos released Adrianos, and the five men walked past the horses and back around to the front of the house.
“What about the horses? Wouldn’t it be faster to take them north?” Adrianos asked curiously.
“Lord Justin only lent them to us to get us to Teira as quickly as possible. They’re very expensive, even for him, and he isn’t willing to risk them getting hurt or stolen, so we’re leaving them here. He sent a collection team after us, and they’ll take those horses back to Calabria.”
“What about us? How will we return back south?”
Timotheos looked at Adrianos mockingly, and said, “Oh? Is the knight’s little errand boy worried about getting a few blisters from walking a bit?”
“No, I just want to get this done fast.”
“Well, we’re going on our own power from here. How far away is our objective?”
“About two hundred miles north, then another seventy or eighty miles east.”
“Ok, we can do that before nightfall,” Timotheos said confidently. He knew how rough the Frozen Mountains are, but his group wasn’t weighed down by weaker mages, so he didn’t think much of it. Clear Ice Fortress wasn’t a concern, either, as the group was confident that they could sneak past it with no one the wiser.
The group walked down the empty street, and the light around them began to twist and bend, while their shadows grew darker and thicker. Their bodies began to emit a smoky darkness, and they sank down into their shadows. The baker had made sure the horses were securely tied to his fence and came around the house to see off the group, but all he saw were a few lingering wisps of darkness.
Five shadows sped across the streets, sticking to the shadows of buildings and crowds when possible. No one saw any more than the baker, and soon enough, they had left Teira completely undetected. Once out of the city, they went north, keeping the road in sight while staying about a hundred feet away from it, well into the dirt, bushes, and trees where no one would notice these moving shadows.
In a couple hours, they spotted Clear Ice Fortress. The commander of the fortress was a sixth-tier mage, and his immediate subordinates were fifth-tier mages, but none were attentive enough to spot Timotheos’ group. The shadows shot over the ground, past the fortress, up and over the ice wall, and vanished into the Frozen Mountains. None of the soldiers at Clear Ice saw a thing.
The cold still affected them as shadows, and the rough terrain slowed them down a bit, but they lost little time. In fact, even though they had grown tired passing through the mountains, they still emerged on the other side before the sun had set.
Despite their mounting fatigue from the all-night ride and crossing the mountains, Timotheos pushed them onwards with Adrianos at his side guiding him. They had no intention of going to Vale Town, going directly east instead, towards the passage to the Forest of Black and White.
Adrianos whispered to Timotheos, “We should rest when we get to the pass.”
“Why?” asked Timotheos.
“It… wouldn’t be wise to enter that vale after dark. It’s infested with ice wraiths and banshees. We’re ill-suited to fighting them.”
Timotheos thought for a moment, then nodded in agreement. “Ok, we’ll get a good night’s sleep in the pass.” That’s exactly what they did. Artorias and Leon weren’t anywhere near the pass, and no tribesmen ever went anywhere close to the Forest of Black and White, so they rested without interruption.
They were up bright and early and set off as soon as they wolfed down some breakfast. They returned to their shadow forms and sped through the pass, emerging into the Forest of Black and White not long after.
“Ugh, what the hell is that aura?! This place feels awful!” one of the men said.
“I don’t know, but it seems to get stronger the farther east we go…” replied Adrianos.
“It doesn’t matter. We have a job to do, and we’ll get it done, no matter what,” said Timotheos, pushing the group onwards.
The sun was still rising, but the vale had grown bright enough that the banshees, ice wraiths, and other, less common night-time creatures had returned to their lairs, so the group proceeded without incident. The only time they stopped was at the Divine Scar, as even these men were struck with awe at its sight and the residual aura of the titanic attack that made it. But they didn’t stop long, just enough to get a good look, then off they were again.
It wasn’t even noon when they arrived at the purple grass clearing, and laid eyes on the fort. They were still very careful, however, and didn’t dispel their shadow forms.
“This is the place?” asked Timotheos.
“It is. Not that there’s too much room for confusion, as there doesn’t appear to be any other man-made structure in the entire vale.” Adrianos responded.
Timotheos very carefully spread his magic sense out over the fort but wasn’t able to see anything. He could see many of the wards and enchantments carved into the walls blocking his sight, though.
“Well, it seems that wall is very heavily warded. If possible, I’d like to do this as quietly as possible, and there isn’t a good way over that wall without alerting the people inside. How do they get in?”
“A tunnel that goes under the wall, with a pair of doors.” Adrianos pointed it out to Timotheos.
“Ok. We’ll wait here, in the shadows of the forest, for the night to fall. We’ll get fully rested, then we’ll infiltrate through that tunnel. I doubt the wards on the doors will be too difficult for us to undo.”
Timotheos was disciplined and cautious, despite his pride and sense of superiority. Even if he were tasked with killing a common mortal, he’d wait until night when they were fast asleep to strike. For one, his shadow magic would be far more potent and useful in the dark to accommodate its lack of defensive strength, and for another, he never ruled out the possibility that he would make a mistake or that his enemy would have some means of defeating him that he didn’t know about.
So, there they waited. The sun slowly crawled up the sky, then begin to fall after reaching its zenith. The vale was bright and warm during the day, but as the sun fell, it grew darker and colder.
During the evening, the group heard the sounds of footsteps and the rustling of leaves. They turned to the source of the sounds and saw Artorias and Leon carrying a pair of dead wind wolves back to the fort.
“That’s them,” muttered Adrianos.
The father-son pair were chatting, completely relaxed in the slowly growing darkness of the vale’s evening. The five men spying on them were nothing more than shadows in the trees, so it was doubtful whether they would have been seen even if the two had been paying attention.
“They certainly match their descriptions,” muttered Timotheos.
“They’re our targets, for sure,” responded Adrianos.
“Should we attack now? They certainly aren’t expecting it…” one of the other men asked.
“No. This supposed ‘Artorias’ is giving me a bad vibe. I can’t quite make sense of his aura, I don’t know how strong he is…” responded Timotheos. “We proceed with the original plan, wait until night, then infiltrate the compound and kill them in their sleep.”
They watched Artorias and Leon walk to the entrance tunnel and disappear within.
Timotheos and his kill team stayed in those shadows for another six hours, watching the tunnel and waiting for the sun to finish setting, then watching the moon slowly rise.
Timotheos was quietly impressed with the detail in the wards protecting the fort, as with his magic senses he could see the wraiths and banshees that wandered the forest, but none ever strayed too close to the clearing. This place had been made very safe from the dangers of the forest.
‘But it’s not safe from me…’ he thought, glancing up at the moon as it neared its peak.
“Let’s do this,” he muttered, and the team shot out from their hiding place, and arrived at the entrance tunnel in seconds.
Once there, they quickly shed their shadows, as they were terrible for interacting with the physical world, given the incorporeality of shadows. For stealth, shadow magic was invaluable, but when they need to get past a magically sealed door, there was little they could do but step out from the shadows.
As one of the men quickly undid the wards on the door, the rest quietly drew their weapons. Adrianos had his sword, and Timotheos had one as well, but the rest all had shorter daggers, perfect for fighting in extremely tight spaces.
The man working on the door smiled derisively. These wards could barely even keep out a fourth-tier mage! After a bit of magic applied to the proper places, the wards shattered, and he swung the door open. Then, he too drew his dagger, and the team filed into the tunnel, immediately making for the inner door.
Had they been a bit slower or a bit more attentive, they might have noticed a glyph on the back of the first door gently pulse, then vanish.
As their door guy got to work examining the wards on the inner door, the outer door slammed closed, and the tunnel was plunged into darkness. Timotheos and his team were startled, but they were professionals, and it took only a moment for them to pull out small magic lanterns about the size of a watch, illuminating the tunnel.
Timotheos looked around, confused, trying to figure out why the door had slammed shut, but the lanterns had only been activated for a few seconds before the stone bricks on the walls cracked and splintered. The team had a brief moment to silently curse, and then the walls imploded with an earthshaking blast.
The tunnel was filled with broken and shattered stone fragments, and the team was right in the middle of it. It felt like every inch of their body was hit with a piece of stone.
They were left stunned and disorientated, but being powerful mages, they were left with little more than cuts and bruises. Adrianos was the sole exception, as he was the weakest of the group. He had a long sliver of stone about the length of his hand stuck in his chest, and he was bleeding from the ears.
None of them had the time to recover after the implosions, however, as the destroyed walls revealed large water runes. They immediately activated, and the tunnel was completely flooded in seconds. This was followed by a deep bass sound, like the rumbling of huge stones reverberating throughout the forest for several miles.
Now, the team began to panic. The man working on the inner door found that it was far more heavily reinforced and warded, and he doubted he would be able to get through it even if he weren’t in danger of drowning, and the outer door had closed, locking them in the tunnel.
Timotheos, being the strongest and most composed of the team, took a moment to assess his situation. He figured that if he put all his power into one attack, he might be able to break through one of the doors. Breaking through the inner door was out of the question, as it would leave them vulnerable as they exited the tunnel, so he quickly swam back to the outer door.
New, stronger wards had appeared on the inside of the door, as if to mock the team’s previous attitude, but Timotheos paid it no mind. At higher tiers, a mage isn’t restricted to one type of elemental magic, though they’ll usually stick with the type they’re most proficient at in combat. Timotheos and his team could use shadow magic, but it was poorly suited to actual combat after their cover is blown, so if they had to fight, they’d use a variety of different powers.
In Timotheos’ case, he was able to use wind magic. He concentrated his magic into his sword, and the water was repelled a few inches away from it. He then swung his sword at the door, putting all his strength and power behind the strike. An enormous blast of air hit the door and shook it violently. The door held, but the wood it was made of began to splinter and bend. Timotheos followed up with a second attack, and then a third. He kept striking the door until finally, after half a dozen strikes, it burst free from its frame.
The water surged through the opening, but the depression leading into the tunnel wasn’t very big, so it didn’t go far. Timotheos and his team were still able to swim out of the tunnel and drag themselves back onto dry land, however.
After taking a few moments to catch their breath, and Adrianos removing the stone sliver still lodged in his chest with a wince of pain, they looked back at the fort.
“What’s the chances they didn’t hear any of that?” one of the men asked.
“Non-existent,” replied Timotheos. His eyes wandered over to the walls. They had been warded to keep away the beasts of the forest, not repel humans. There were alarm enchantments at the top, though stealth had been completely blown at this point. “Fuck it. We’re going over the walls.” Timotheos growled angrily.
They all knew that they had lost the element of surprise, so no one argued with him. They just gripped their weapons with renewed resolve and leaped over the fifteen-foot-high walls.
There, they were greeted with the sight of Artorias standing by the central obelisk, sword in hand, and fury evident on his face. His killing intent soared, hitting them like a brick wall, but they too had powerful killing auras, and they were left largely unaffected. Timotheos and his three men quickly spread out to surround Artorias, while Adrianos looked around for Leon, who they couldn’t see.
“You all have made a grave mistake in coming here…” spat Artorias as his body became wreathed in lightning. He raised his sword and attacked.
Whew! *wipes brow*. Another long chapter! Despite some shit going down next chapter, it won't be quite so long as these past two have been.
Please, leave a comment down below letting me know what you think about this chapter, and consider heading over to Royal Road and leaving a rating or review!
And I'd like to give an extra special thanks to everyone whose been helping me by pointing out any spelling mistakes or little words I occasionally skip over (i.e. "It was tall black-haired youth." -> "It was a tall black-haired youth.", thank you Zabzablord for that particular one).