Bonus chapter 1 of 3 ;)
Leon felt incredible. It was like he knew exactly where every speck of power within him was, and as if he could direct it with perfect control. It wasn’t that he was stronger or more powerful, but that his magic flowed through him with such ease as to be startling.
‘Is this… the fourth-tier?’ he wondered.
However, before he could really do anything to experiment, he heard Xaphan shout, [The Valemen are here! One of them is preparing to launch a wind blade at the tower!]
Leon’s eyes widened in alarm as he stood up from where he was kneeling and drew his sword. He cut an imposing figure, standing in the center of the tower with his armor on and sword drawn, and he drew the eyes of every soldier standing guard.
“We’re under attack!” he shouted, making his voice heard above the rain and wind.
There was a moment of silence as the soldiers processed what he had just said, and then they all scrambled to rise and arm themselves.
“Alix, go downstairs and raise the alarm!” Leon continued. Alix quickly nodded and ran downstairs, her relief that Leon seemed to be back to normal vanishing into the panic of another Valeman attack.
Then, Leon turned his attention to Xaphan. [Where is the attack coming from? The south?]
[Of course it’s coming from the south!] the demon responded, with a slightly irritated tone at being asked such a question.
Leon wheeled around to face the south and stuck his head over the battlements. He couldn’t see a thing for the dark and the rain, and channeling magic into his eyes did little to help. He could, however, feel the magic in the air swirling around and being sucked away into the gloom, giving an idea about where the attack was going to come from.
[Will I be able to use your fire to counter?] Leon asked Xaphan.
[Yes,] Xaphan replied instantly.
Leon smiled. He was ecstatic at the thought of finally ascending to the fourth-tier, but he had to suppress those feelings of elation until the current crisis was dealt with. He was facing down a fifth-tier mage, after all, and simply being fourth-tier wasn’t going to deliver victory to him and the rest of the soldiers in the tower.
Suddenly, what looked to be a wave came streaking out of the darkness and straight toward him. In that moment, Leon summoned as much of Xaphan’s power as he could, and let loose with a huge blast of fire, into which the wind blade careened.
[You stopped it,] Xaphan remarked.
Leon heard the demon, but he didn’t respond. Instead, he glared back at the Valeman who had shot the wind blade, who he could now see from the light of the demon fire and from the wind blade cutting through the rain. They stared at each other until the rain extinguished the demonfire, with Leon’s stoic face hidden behind his black helmet and Hakon’s face twisting in rage.
“CHAAARGE!” Hakon bellowed from below, and hundreds of Valemen sprinted out from the cover of the trees.
“Fire,” Leon said just loud enough for those around him to hear.
The soldiers at the top of the tower fired first, as they had the greatest range. Dozens of Valemen fell in the charge, but it was only a small drop in the bucket compared to how many were bearing down on the tower.
Alix sprinted back up the stairs, drawing Leon’s attention. She nodded to him, indicating that everything was ready. To confirm it, arrows began flying out of the arrow loops on the second and third floors, fired by two of the other three squads in the tower. But, even with their casualty rate doubled, the Valemen kept charging.
[There’s another wind blade coming,] Xaphan warned.
Leon looked out into the rain and sensed the same gusts of magic in the air indicating a strong magical attack on its way. [Yes,] he said to Xaphan, [I can see it…]
[Good,] the demon responded.
After several seconds, another wind blade, much bigger than the last swept over the Valemen struggling up the muddy hill and toward the tower, and again, Leon channeled as much of Xaphan’s strength as he could. Fire burst out of his outstretched hand and met the wind blade, warping the air and dissipating the magic. However, it wasn’t enough to stop the attack; the wind blade slammed into the tower and left a light scar across the stone battlements.
Leon was hurled back from where he had been standing, but the wind blade hadn’t managed to penetrate his armor, so he picked himself up and ran back to the battlements, sheathing his sword and drawing his bow as he went. Several of the soldiers—including Alix—almost abandoned the battlements to rush over to him, but his immediate rise let them breath of a sigh of relief and get back to shooting.
[Please make sure to warn me if another wind blade is incoming,] Leon asked Xaphan. [I’ll be too busy to notice.]
[No problem, but there may not be another,] Xaphan responded.
Leon would’ve asked why, but there were Valemen who had made it to the top of the hill and were taking shelter at the foot of the tower, so he focused on his bow. He drew a handful of arrows, took a quick moment to locate suitable targets, then started shooting. In a mere two to three seconds, Leon killed four second-tier warriors and one third-tier warrior, and he was only getting started.
Hjalmar and Hrorekr stared at Hakon as he panted from the exertion of the two large wind blades. Neither said a word, as they had seen Hakon use his magic enough times to know how draining it was—and after a day of killing Southerners, Hakon was getting tired indeed.
Plus, there were still hundreds of Valemen running past them to start climbing the hill, and implying any weakness on the part of the Great Chief wouldn’t do with so many of them around.
“… Get… moving…” Hakon sputtered, waving his hand toward the tower.
Hjalmar made a few hesitant steps in the direction of the tower, but Hrorekr shook his head in refusal, so Hjalmar came to a quick halt.
“We’re not going anywhere just yet,” Hrorekr said, allowing a look of concern to appear on his face for a split second, just long enough for Hakon to see it.
The Great Chief was a little angered, but a lot more happy, as he clapped Hrorekr on the shoulder with a huge smile on his face. “I’ll… be fine,” he said. “You two… go and… break down those… doors!”
“… I think Bragi can handle himself, but if you want me to reinforce him, I can do it myself,” Hjalmar said, nodding to Hrorekr.
As he heard this, Hakon straightened up, took a deep breath, and forcefully said, “Get into the damned tower!”
Hjalmar took off toward the hill, leaving Hrorekr to keep an eye on the exhausted Hakon.
Leon fired arrow after arrow, felling more than two dozen Valemen in less than five minutes. A few intrepid Valemen tried to shoot back at the soldiers, but the rain and the incline of the hill made that nearly impossible. Making matters worse for the Valemen were the growing piles of bodies that were accumulating all over the hill.
But then, as he was searching for his next target, he saw one particular Valeman near the foot of the tower. What struck Leon about this man was his aura, which he was able to identify as fourth-tier! It wasn’t a shapeless and formless mass that blended almost seamlessly into the magic in his surroundings, but could be clearly distinguished!
Leon smiled and prepared more arrows—including one he was saving for just such an occasion—targeting this Valeman.
Bragi, the Valeman in question, had struggled to get up the hill; the rain seemed like it was only growing more intense, and the mass of Valemen trying to get up the hill behind him was only resulting in small mudslides. The thunder and howling wind made it prohibitively difficult for the third-tier Valemen to assert control, so by the time he made it to the tower, Bragi was left with less than a hundred Valemen at his side.
And that group was only growing smaller, as the soldiers on the roof shot downward to pester him and his warriors, while those in the middle floors of the tower fired out into the sea of Valemen. Bragi himself had to rely on a shield to make it through the withering fire.
He ran straight to the door on the ground floor and rammed into it with his shoulder, hurling himself into it with as much of his strength and weight as he could. He didn’t expect the door to burst open, but he did hope for some give. However, he was disappointed and slightly dismayed to see that the door held firm, without a single tremor shaking the hinges from the force of his blow.
Bragi grit his teeth and tried again, slamming his shoulder into the door, but the second blow did no more than the first.
Behind him, above the rain and the wind and the thunder, he could hear the sounds of Valemen falling, cursing, and screaming in pain. He howled in frustration, then threw away his shield so he could reach for the ax on his back. However, as soon as he wound himself up to try and chop through the thick wooden door, an arrow appeared from above and sank deep into his shoulder.
Bragi stumbled back from the shock and pain, dropping his ax as his main weapon arm lost all strength. For a moment, all he could do was stare at the arrow sticking out of his shoulder and try to raise his arm. The Valemen around him stared in fear; seeing an injured thane was a rare thing and seeing it before their eyes filled them with dread.
“BRAGI!” came a shout from the crowd of Valemen.
The Valeman in question turned around, disregarding his defenses and situational awareness in the shock of his injury.
Above him, Leon wasn’t going to give the Valeman an opportunity to recover, so he nocked his special arrow, one that had a spell attached to it. He held the arrow by his cheek for a split second to confirm his shot, then released. In an instant, the arrow pierced Bragi between his shoulder blades and struck Bragi’s heart.
One of Hakon Fire-Beard’s last remaining thanes fell face-first to the ground, mortally wounded. As Bragi fell, Hjalmar burst forward, freeing himself from the crowd of Valemen stuck on the muddy hill behind the bodies of their kith and kin.
From above, Leon could see the thane running to his fallen comrade, but he didn’t prepare another arrow. Instead, he watched and waited.
“Bragi! Get up!” Hjalmar shouted as he sprinted to the side of his fallen friend, who the other warriors had pulled away from the door and behind a small shield wall. Seeing the arrows in Bragi, Hjalmar turned to the other Valemen neat the tower and shouted, “Get over here and help me with hi-“
As Hjalmar shouted for help, the spell attached to Leon’s arrow activated, detonating in a spectacular pillar of bright orange flame.
From the trees, Hakon and Hrorekr watched in horror as the fire enveloped Bragi, Hjalmar, and the half dozen shield-bearing Valemen who had rushed over to help.
Without someone there to sustain it, the fire died down in seconds, but the damage had been done. Hjalmar and Bragi had been incinerated, and the Valemen who tried to help them were horrifically burned.
Hakon and Hrorekr silently watched the last embers of the spell die in the rain, while Leon merely clenched his teeth and got back to shooting his arrows.
“That man…” Hakon growled, staring up at the top of the tower. He couldn’t see through the rain and darkness, but he knew that’s where Leon was.
“We’ll kill him…” Hrorekr said with a vicious look in his eyes.
The two Valemen started walking forward with a slow, deliberate gait. Hakon was still recovering some of his magic power, but Hrorekr was fresh and ready for battle. Their combined auras and killing intent were towering, so much so that Leon could feel it from the tower.
[I think you’ve pissed off that wind mage,] Xaphan said, unable to hide his slight anxiety.
Leon frowned, then replied, [I defended against him twice, now. Doing so again shouldn’t be too difficult…]
[Fighting at range is very different than fighting in close quarters,] Xaphan mused, [but I hope you’re right…]
Down below, Hakon and Hrorekr’s advance seemed to part the Valemen in front of them. The hardened warriors made way for their Great Chief and his last remaining thane. With those two going forward, many thought, they might have the chance to scale the hill and join them in razing the tower.
As they came into his sight, Leon targeted the two leading Valemen with his arrows. His first arrow missed. It had been aimed at Hakon’s unarmored chest, but a seeming random gust of wind knocked it off course. Fortunately, it veered into the arm of a nearby first-tier Valeman, but Leon was hardly satisfied with that. He quickly drew and fired another arrow at Hakon, but again, it was blown off course, this time to land in the mud at Hakon’s feet.
[He’s using a wind barrier to deflect your arrows…] Xaphan analyzed.
“Shit…” Leon muttered out loud. “They’re going to get to the door…”
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