When Artorias and Leon had returned home just a few hours before, they had no inkling that this night would change everything about their lives forever. It was just a night like any other.
They hung up the two wind wolves they hunted in the ice shack, while Artorias prepared some dinner and Leon meditated. Almost a week had passed since Roland and his party had left, so life had largely returned to normal. Leon went to bed relatively early, but Artorias stayed up for a while longer, as he wanted to take some time to look at the stars and think.
‘We should leave this place since I’ve been identified. But where should we go? Going further east is too dangerous, and west is too populated…’ Artorias felt that Roland was worthy of trust, but it never hurt to be careful. The only thing that gave him pause was what Leon would think about the move as he still hadn’t brought it up with his son, yet.
He dozed off without deciding on anything not long after sundown, but he was awoken when he heard a loud explosion and felt the shockwave rush through the ground. He jumped to his feet, took a moment to look around and shake off the last vestiges of sleep, then charged back to his house to grab his sword.
He heard the torrential flooding of the tunnel and knew that the fort was under attack. To confirm it, all the runes on the obelisk began flashing a dark red, and it gave a deep rumble that echoed throughout the forest.
Leon, shocked and bleary-eyed, emerged half-dressed from his house.
“Leon! Get back inside, now!” Artorias shouted, and Leon blinked once in confusion before the reality of the situation sank in and he ducked back inside, slamming the door shut behind him.
Artorias heard a few dull thumping sounds coming from the tunnel, and a few moments later, five men jumped over the walls, landing in the grass just off the stone courtyard. He recognized Adrianos, and his blood began to boil from rage. ‘Did that paladin betray me?! He promised that he wouldn’t speak a word about our location!’ he thought, thinking for a moment that his impression of Roland was wrong and the paladin was to blame. But, he put that out of his mind for now. There would be time enough for placing blame when these intruders were dead at his feet.
Artorias called forth his magic, becoming enveloped in lightning, and let his killing intent pour out of him. Timotheos and his men did likewise. Although their killing auras were slightly weaker than Artorias’, they still stood firm against him.
Artorias glared at them. “You all have made a grave mistake in coming here…” he said with obvious rage. He raised his trusty sword, then lunged forward, crossing the distance between him and the closest intruder in a blink of an eye, bringing his blade down backed with all his might and fury.
This man was an earth mage of the sixth-tier, but he barely had time to summon a rock pillar from the ground to block Artorias before the sword came crashing down upon it. The rock blocked the sword, but the lightning that Artorias was wreathed in arced around the pillar and hit the man like a battering ram. He flew backward, with Artorias’ lightning magic coursing through him, ravaging his body.
Artorias turned to the next man, but this guy wasn’t going to be put on the defensive. This man’s dagger wasn’t suited to defending against Artorias’ longsword, so he simply dropped it and a gout of flame burst out of his hands, directly in Artorias’ face. A few singed hairs didn’t matter to Artorias, however, and he stabbed out with his sword, piercing straight through the attacker’s chest and skewering his heart. Artorias then blasted his opponent with lightning, filling his entire body with it, tearing apart his magical body and shattering his soul realm. The man breathed his last, and Artorias withdrew his sword, allowing him to fall lifelessly to the ground.
Timotheos saw this as an opening and targeted Artorias’ exposed back. He swung his sword, sending a sharp blade of wind slicing through the air towards Artorias. Lightning magic was extremely weak on defense but made up for it with nearly unparalleled speed and explosive attack power. Artorias put these traits on display as he seemingly turned into a lightning bolt for a split second and dodged Timotheos’ wind blade, which then tore through the wall behind him. The solid and magically reinforced oak logs that made up the wall were sliced clean through, and almost a fifth of the entire wall was cut in half.
Light magic was perhaps the only type of elemental magic that could match Artorias’ lightning in sheer speed, but Timotheos used his wind magic to put that to the test as he closed the distance between himself and the lightning mage in a single step. The two men became a blur of whirling swords that crashed against each other with earsplitting shrieks. Artorias’ lightning surged against Timotheos and the wind mage countered with blades of wind. The ground shook from the force behind every attack and the other mages couldn’t even get close to assist Timotheos.
Adrianos decided to take this opportunity while Artorias was distracted to look for Leon, as the young man still hadn’t shown himself yet. He darted towards Leon’s house and kicked the door. Artorias had indulged his every paranoia when building this place and had even reinforced the two houses, so the door only bent inwards a little, and held against Adrianos’ attack.
Meanwhile, the last of Timotheos’ men went to help his injured comrade.
“This is bad, I think this guy is at least late seventh-tier, close to breaking through to the eighth,” the injured man said with pain as the other cauterized his wounds with fire magic, though he couldn’t do anything about the lightning burns.
The fire mage frowned. Timotheos was seventh-tier as well, but the soul realm grows throughout the entire seventh-tier. A mage enters the eighth-tier once the soul realm grows to have a diameter of one hundred miles. The bigger the soul realm, the more magic the mage has to draw upon. Timotheos’ soul realm was only about seventy-five miles, which meant that Artorias probably outclassed all of them in raw power.
“Then we’ll have to work together and beat him with numbers and skill.” the fire mage said to his injured companion.
By now, Adrianos had realized that he wasn’t going to get through the door, not while he continued to limit himself. Roland and his knights all thought that Adrianos was only a fourth-tier mage and Adrianos allowed them to continue thinking that way. This allowed him to go wherever the paladin went and kept him out of the spotlight. But now, he sighed, and ice began creeping over his skin.
He completely unleashed his power, that of the fifth-tier, and began wailing on the door again. This time, it only took three more kicks for the door to cave inwards, barely clinging to its hinges, and Adrianos was inside.
He looked around, but since his magic senses hadn’t been able to penetrate the wards on the house, he didn’t know where Leon was, or if he was even still in it. But he was and hiding just behind the opened door. He had drawn his hunting knife, channeled all the magic he could into it, then lunged out at Adrianos.
The blade stabbed towards Adrianos’ exposed neck, but Adrianos’ reflexes were sharp, and he was much stronger than Leon. Icy armor quickly appeared, deflecting the blade and throwing Leon off balance. The spy then twisted his upper body and slammed his fist into the side of Leon’s chest. The younger man was thrown across the room, crashing into the wall with a sickening crunch, and fell to the ground. He tried to rise, but the pain overcame him, and he collapsed again.
Adrianos quickly approached, sword drawn, and prepared to stab downwards into the sixteen-year-old. However, just as he brought the sword up, he heard a tremendous thunderclap that shook the entire house, and a scream of pain from Timotheos outside.
In a flash of lightning, Artorias had appeared behind Adrianos, his face shrouded in shadow and his own furious killing aura. In one swift motion, he brought his sword down upon the spy’s shoulder, cutting straight through the muscle and bone and all the way through the waist. Adrianos didn’t have time to even shout in surprise before his life ended.
With the door busted open and the wards carved into the house’s walls disrupted, Timotheos was able to use his magic senses to see his cousin cut down. His face twisted in grief, but he knew this wasn’t the time to lose his head. He glanced at his remaining two men.
“This guy’s soul realm probably exceeds ninety miles. We’re not going to overpower him,” he said grimly. “You and I will engage him, you’ll prepare the venom and strike when you get an opening.” The fire mage nodded and moved to join him, while the injured man began fumbling around in a small pouch he had at his waist.
Inside Leon’s house, Artorias took the brief respite to check on his son. Leon was still alive, but Adrianos hadn’t just broken a number of ribs, he had also sent some of his power into Leon’s body. It wasn’t enough to freeze him, but Leon had fallen unconscious from the pain and shock while his body naturally used its own magic power to fight back against Adrianos’.
“Rest here, my boy. Let me take care of this.” Artorias whispered, gently placing his hand on Leon’s shoulder and sending some of his own power to help drive out Adrianos’ ice magic from his son. Then, he stood and calmly walked back outside.
As he stepped back out into the moonlight, Timotheos and his fire mage were waiting for him. Their quick fight had taken its toll on Artorias and Timotheos, as each saw that the other was bleeding from dozens of tiny cuts, and they were covered in bruises. Timotheos even had a large gash on his stomach that he was desperately trying to ignore for now.
Artorias spat out a mouthful of blood, then charged again with a flash of lightning, slashing his sword towards Timotheos. Timotheos parried the attack with a well-practiced swish of his own sword, while the fire mage snapped his fingers and directed a fiery explosion towards Artorias.
For a moment, their view of Artorias was blocked by the bright orange flame, but a blast of lightning cut through it and slammed into the fire mage, severing an arm. The mage dropped to his knees in pain, and the fire dissipated.
Artorias’ clothes were a little singed, and his fingers slightly blackened, but that didn’t stop him from following through with another lunge at Timotheos.
Timotheos successfully blocked but was forced back a step. For a moment, he contemplated how such a common looking sword like the one Artorias was using was able to stand up to his ornate heavily enchanted black steel blade, but he forcibly stamped down on those thoughts. Artorias’ fighting style was extremely aggressive, and it left him with little room for anything but concentrating on his defense.
The fire mage had almost lost consciousness from the loss of his arm, but he clenched his teeth and raised his one remaining arm for another attack. He used all the magic left to him and conjured a small flame in his palm. It was only about the size of a butterfly, and it very gently roiled and seethed. But when the mage pushed it out towards Artorias, it flew across the stone square with blinding speed. It hit Artorias in the back and exploded with great fury.
Artorias cried out in pain, before tearing off his burning shirt. Timotheos swung his sword into the flames, hoping to catch Artorias while he was distracted, but the lightning mage had surged backward in a flash of lightning, stabbing his sword straight through the fire mage’s throat.
The dead fire mage fell back while Artorias turned back to face Timotheos. Both men were breathing very hard and had little magic power left in their blood, but their soul realms were recovering their reserves. The two carefully circled each other, never allowing their attention to waver for a single moment, always keeping the other in sight. And that was Artorias’ mistake.
Timotheos had circled around Artorias in a direction that left his last man behind the lightning mage, and he had just finished applying a thick black liquid onto his dagger. The injured man was the weakest of the three that Timotheos had picked, but he was still an earth mage of the sixth-tier. And now, he saw his chance. Artorias wasn’t paying any attention to him and had left his burnt back wide open. The injured man struggled to his feet as quietly as he could and made very brief eye contact with Timotheos. Timotheos began slowly inching towards Artorias, who narrowed his eyes and tensed up, preparing to lunge forward again.
Unfortunately, the injured man made the first move. He had crept up on Artorias, and when he was in range, stabbed forward with his knife. Artorias realized what was happening, and twisted out of the way just in time, slicing the injured man in half at the hips in the same motion.
Timotheos, too, took the chance to move. While Artorias was turning back around to face him, Timotheos gathered all the mana he had left and channeled it into his legs. He sprinted at the dagger, catching it as it fell from the injured man’s lifeless hand. Artorias’ eyes widened as he realized he wouldn’t be fast enough to block this one, and he braced himself. Timotheos drove the knife home, sinking it deep into Artorias’ chest.
But, Timotheos bet it all on this one last attack and now he was in striking range of Artorias. The lightning mage raised his sword and stabbed it through Timotheos’ shoulder. The sword traveled down into Timotheos’ chest, impaling his heart and shattering his soul realm. Artorias’ magic power flooded through him, ripping his magic body to shreds, and Timotheos knew that his life had come to an end.
He lamented that no one would be able to report back Lord Justin. He lamented that he hadn’t been able to complete his mission, as even if Artorias died now, his son would still live on. Perhaps most of all, he lamented that his cousin died so far away from home and that neither of them would ever see that home again. All breath left his lungs, and his eyes closed, never to reopen.
Artorias lasted slightly longer, standing amidst the broken and burning remnants of his home. The storage shack had been cut in half from an errant wind blade, large parts of the wall had been cut to pieces, much of the grass was still on fire, and the tunnel was flooded. But he wasn’t thinking about any of that right now. He took a few staggering steps towards Leon’s house, but the venom that coated the knife in his chest was potent and was already coursing throughout his entire body. The last of his strength left him and he collapsed, unable to move.
For a moment, he thought he heard Leon’s voice, but he couldn’t be sure, as he felt his consciousness slip away.
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