Few could sleep that night. Torfinn had gotten the warriors worked up, and it took several hours for them to calm down. But, they did eventually get some rest, and the war party set off early the next morning.
It took until afternoon for the warriors to approach the bandit’s mountain, their progress slowed only when they entered the forest in the south of the vale. Harald and his scouts met up with the warriors on the way, and the war party didn’t stop again until they were only about a mile down the mountain slope from the bandit fort.
Now, they simply had to rest and wait. The warriors caught up on the sleep they missed the night before and watched the sun sink towards the horizon.
After the sun went down, the war party began to stir and limber up for the battle to come. They waited until night had truly fallen before setting out. Hiding two hundred undisciplined warriors is a tall order, but Torfinn, his thanes, and the third-tier warriors managed to keep the noise to a minimum.
Fortunately, Torfinn had been right when he observed that the sentries the bandits posted weren’t attentive because the war party made it all the way to where they were to wait several hundred feet from the tree line without the bandits getting so much as a glimpse of them. Before them lay the rocky slope of the mountain, steadily getting steeper as it rose towards the peak. The fort wasn’t too far up, only a couple hundred feet or so, an easy climb for the stronger mages.
The leaders all met one last time at the center of the war party’s line to confirm details of the plan. It was decided that Artorias, Torfinn, Freyja, and Leon would attack the tower on the left, while Roland, his three knights, and their squires would attack the other. Asbjorn and Harald waited with the war party, preparing to take a few dozen men and charge the only path up the slope when the gate of the fort opened.
Right before the groups separated, Artorias looked to his son. “Are you ready, little lion? Feeling nervous at all?”
Leon didn’t say anything back, he only smiled and sent out some of his killing intent.
Artorias smiled. “Good.”
It wasn’t a hard climb up the slope. At first, they simply had to stay low and walk over the rocks. They didn’t have to be too careful, as the sentries in the tower were more concerned with staying awake than keeping watch. As the slope grew steeper, however, they had to begin crawling on all fours, but this allowed them to stay even closer to the ground.
Artorias was the first to reach the walls. There was a thin strip of flat land between the wall and the top of the slope, maybe five or six feet wide, which Artorias noted was too smooth to be natural. He frowned, as the land the fort was built on had probably been flattened by an earth mage, as the expense of having magical engineers do the same would not be worth it this far outside of civilization. The earth mage who did it must be strong.
Roland reached the walls next, on the other side of the fort, closely followed by the rest of the group. He and his knights silently drew their weapons, a sword for Roland, a spear for Dame Sheira, Sir Andrew had his battle-ax, and Sir Roger had a pair of daggers. Normally, Sir Roger would use a mace, but he was trying to be quiet, so he went for smaller weapons, though he still carried his mace in a sling on his back. The squires each had one-handed swords, but they stayed in their sheathes for now. They were here largely to watch and learn from the knights.
Torfinn’s group also drew their weapons. Artorias had his longsword, Leon had his bow, Freyja had a short sword and a shield, and Torfinn himself carried a hatchet and a dagger, with a longer ax strapped to his back.
Leon watched the three others in his group make their final quick preparations. His role was essentially the same as the squires, to watch and learn.
One of the sentries in the tower yawned and began walking around in the tower, while the other four no longer bothered to pretend to be alert and broke out a pack of cards. The restless sentry had felt a slight chill run down his spine and decided to glance down the slope. He was greeted with the sight of Torfinn’s group staring back at him.
The sentry’s eyes widened in alarm and his heart skipped a beat, but he still groped for the sword at his belt and he sucked in a breath to shout to the others. Leon reacted fast and loosed an arrow. The other four sentries in the tower only saw the other man stiffen, before falling forward over the wall. As they all stared in shock, Artorias, Torfinn, and Freyja had leaped up the twenty-foot-high wall with ease, and in less than a heartbeat, made each sentry shorter by a head.
This was all done in silence. Artorias glanced at the other tower and saw that Roland and the knights had already seized it and were helping the squires up the wall. Artorias walked back to the wall and extended a hand down to Leon. Leon, like the squires, was still only a second-tier mage, so while he could jump just high enough to climb into the tower, it wouldn’t be so smooth and silent as the others. He quickly jumped, grabbing his father’s hand, and was pulled into the tower.
Artorias smiled at Leon in approval. His son had gotten the first kill of the night! The knights and Valemen dropped down from the towers, but Artorias took the time to relieve one of the dead bandits of his sword and handed it to Leon. The younger man had never owned a proper sword before, and though the blade was made of poor-quality steel, it was still a far sight better than anything they would find in the vale market.
Leon’s eyes widened, and a huge smile broke out on his face. Artorias patted his son on the shoulder, but then turned and rejoined Torfinn on the ground. Leon quickly collected himself and followed suit.
The two groups began making their way towards the gate. The interior of the fort had half a dozen buildings, each big enough to house thirty or forty people. The knights and tribesmen were tempted to spread their magic senses out over the fort, but the stronger mages among the bandits might be able to notice it if they weren’t careful, so they had decided to rely on their physical senses until the rest of the war party was through the gates.
Unlike the towers, which had five men apiece, the gate was guarded by only three men, and they were about as attentive as the tower sentries. They didn’t notice the trespassers jumping down from the tower and regrouping behind the closest building to the gate.
Once the two groups linked up, Torfinn, Freyja, and Roland surged out from behind the building, crossed the open area in a flash, and killed the gate guards before they even knew what was happening.
The gate itself was the only part of the wall that the bandits had bothered to ward against attacks, so Artorias and Sir Andrew immediately went about removing them to open the gate. It wasn’t too difficult, as the wards were fairly minor, but they still locked the gate too tightly to open without alerting the entire fort.
While those two were working, everyone else spread out around the open area surrounding the gate. They sidled up to the buildings, keeping an eye on the gaps and doors, and nearby entrance to the cave. Only Leon and Kevin, Sir Andrew’s squire, stayed with the two opening the gate.
The glyphs making up the wards were each made of several connected runes, so to destroy the ward, each rune had to be scratched out or otherwise destroyed, something Artorias estimated to only need a minute or two.
While Artorias and Sir Andrew were busy taking a knife to the runes, one of the doors of the buildings opened, and a sleepy bandit half walked and half stumbled out, with a pipe in one hand and a pouch of leaves in the other. He stepped out into the fort’s open area and was greeted by the sight of the infiltration team.
The bandit froze and looked around. He was completely surrounded, and all eyes were on him. Freyja made to sneak up on him and cut his throat, but she didn’t move fast enough. The pipe dropped from his hand, and he was about to shout and raise the alarm, but seeing Freyja was too far away from him, Leon immediately silenced him with an arrow to the throat. The man made a few gurgling noises, then collapsed.
Unfortunately, someone inside the building heard him fall, and the door opened again.
“Hey Damien, are you alr- shit!” Another man had poked his head out of the door, and seeing the dead bandit, he swore and ducked back inside. Then, he began to shout.
“EVERYBODY, GET UP! WE’RE UNDER ATTACK! EVERYBODY UP!”
There was some confusion at first, but in seconds there came more shouting from the buildings, along with the sounds of a large number of bandits rising and arming themselves.
Artorias and Sir Andrew were only about halfway through breaking the wards by this point. They simply looked at each other, then began channeling their magic. The others regrouped nearer to the gate and prepared themselves to hold the gate.
Artorias then sent much of his power into his arms and threw himself against the gate. The wood splintered, and the planks bent and cracked, but the gate just barely held. The remaining wards glowed brightly as they struggled to hold the gate together, but Sir Andrew then did the same as Artorias and threw himself against the gate with a loud thud. Again, the gate shook and cracked, but it held.
The light of the glowing wards grew a bit dimmer, and Artorias attacked the gate again. The hinges of the door were torn from the wall, and the gate came crashing down, hitting the ground with a huge crash that could wake sleeping mountain giants.
The war party in the tree line several hundred feet down the mountain saw the gate come down and began charging up the mountain, with Asbjorn, Harald, and the men-at-arms front and center.
By now, the bandits were pouring out of their barracks buildings, and the infiltration party found themselves surrounded on three sides, with their backs against the now open gate.
Leon was firing his arrows into the crowd, while the rest of the team hurled themselves into the bandits. They abandoned all subtlety and began using their magic in earnest. Freyja and the squires weren’t strong enough mages to call upon anything more than body enhancement magic, but Torfinn and the knights began unleashing their own power.
Torfinn and Sir Andrew were earth mages, and their skin hardened into stone while the ground shook beneath them. Their strength was raised a great deal in that state, and they barreled into the bandits like rolling boulders over grass.
Dame Sheira was an ice mage, and she conjured three large ice spikes that thrust out alongside her spear, impaling any unfortunate bandit she saw.
Sir Roger put away his daggers and drew his mace. He was a fire mage, and the head of the mace became wreathed in flame. There was a small fiery explosion every time he slammed the mace into one of the bandits, and they would erupt into a pillar of fire while screaming and flailing.
Sir Roland was a light mage, and with every swing of his sword, he would emit a bright beam that would slice clean through several bandits before dissipating.
Artorias was the only one strong enough to use his magic who didn’t call upon it. He simply used his vastly superior speed and strength to cleave through handfuls of bandits at a time.
This was a horrifying sight for the bandits. They were being cut down, burned alive, impaled on ice spikes, and crushed in droves, and as if to compound their terror, the rest of the war party had reached the fort. The warriors and men-at-arms poured through the open gates and filled in the gaps between the infiltration team. Even more warriors had taken to climbing over the walls rather than bunch up at the gate, and though they were comparatively few, the bandits found themselves being surrounded.
“What the hell is going on out here?!” A booming voice was heard from the cave at the back of the fort. Eight more men ran outside from the cave, but these were no ordinary bandits. These were clearly the leaders, as they had significantly more expensive looking clothes, while one man was even wearing a pair of ornate golden rings, each set with a large ruby that gently pulsed with a magical light. All but three of these men were fourth-tier mages, while the man with the ruby rings and the two at his side were of the fifth-tier.
Seeing the chaos, they immediately drew their swords and jumped into the fray. They were closely followed by a seemingly endless flood of more bandits rushing out of the cave to reinforce their comrades.
Three of the fourth-tier bandits charged at the three thanes, tying them down and preventing them from continuing their slaughter. The other two challenged Sir Andrew, while two of the fifth-tier bandits went after Dame Sheira and Sir Roger. This left the bandit leader, the man with the ruby rings. He didn’t attack anyone specific, he simply threw himself into the melee and began hacking away at the Valemen.
With a few swings of his sword, the bandit leader caused large rock spikes to erupt from the ground, impaling many of the warriors. He then caught sight of two of the men-at-arms, fighting side-by-side against the bandits. He smiled and crossed the thirty feet between them with a single leap. He swung his sword once more, and nearly split both in half, killing them instantly.
Suddenly, he quickly side-stepped, just as Torfinn’s ax was about to come down on his head. Torfinn smashed into the ground and glared at the bandit leader. The leader smiled at him, and swung his sword, causing more rock spikes to shoot up from the ground, but they shattered once they hit Torfinn’s hardened skin.
With all the leaders engaged in battle, the warriors and bandits did their best to keep their distance, but the battle still raged between the barracks buildings. The battle lines blurred, and the fort became a chaotic melee of whirling blades and spilled blood. The bandits had numbers on their side, as more just kept coming from the cave, but the warriors still had Artorias, Roland, Leon, and the squires.
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