Artorias smiled, surrounded by corpses. The bandits had made a ring around him, with none willing to attack. It didn’t take long for them to realize that he was far beyond any of them, and to engage him in battle would be tantamount to suicide.
One bandit, a little slower in the head than the rest, rushed out from behind Artorias. The mage turned into a blur and returned to his previous position before any of the others could react, and the attacking bandit hardly even realized he was dead as his severed head fell to the ground.
The squires were fighting side-by-side, trying to maintain something akin to battle lines even as the warriors charged into the mass of bandits that had only just now finished spewing out of the cave. A group of bandits threw themselves at the squires, but quick sword work forced them back and even left two dead.
One bandit, a second-tier mage, ran forward. He swung his sword at Victoria, aiming for her throat, but Victoria was saved by her quick reflexes as she just barely managed to block. She rotated her wrist, spinning the bandit’s blade away from her, while Luke took advantage of the opening and thrust his own sword deep into the bandit’s stomach. The man fell, but the rest of the bandits attacked again.
Kevin and John were holding their own, and Luke and Victoria worked together flawlessly, covering each other and watching each other’s back. But, as the bandits pushed, the two pairs began to be separated, and the bandits moved to surround them. Luke deflected a spear thrust towards his chest, but a bandit to his side hacked at his exposed arm.
Luke gritted his teeth and braced for the pain. He didn’t think this bandit would be able to completely chop off his arm since the bandit didn’t seem to be stronger than a first-tier mage, but he would most definitely do some heavy damage. Luke heard a whistling sound for a split second, and an arrow buried itself in the bandit’s chest, piercing clean through to the heart. The bandit’s sword strike never landed, and he fell, dead before he hit the ground.
Luke couldn’t turn to see who had fired the arrow, there were too many bandits around for him to divert his attention, but he thought he knew who fired it. His suspicions were confirmed as Leon ran over, sword in hand, and hurled himself against the bandits between the squires.
Killing that bandit had taken Leon’s last arrow, so he had slung his bow and ran over to fill the widening gap between Luke on the right and John on the left. Artorias had taught Leon to never hold back, so Leon swung his sword with all the force he could muster. The bandit on the receiving end of the blow tried to block, but his own sword was knocked out of his hand and Leon’s blade fell down upon him. The blade sunk into his shoulder and nearly came all the way down to his heart.
“Yeah!” Luke shouted as he saw Leon’s first strike. “Thanks for that!”
But Leon just smiled and continued attacking the bandits. With him closing the gap and providing some support, the squires regained their footing and stopped being forced back and held against the tide of bandits crashing down upon them.
Not far away, Dame Sheira and Sir Roger were fighting side-by-side against their opponents. They were fighting with the two fifth-tier bandits who had come from the cave, and both proved to be tricky opponents.
Dame Sheira was unable to continue launching her ice spikes, as the warriors were mixing together with the bandits as they fought, and any miss of hers could hit an ally. Her opponent took advantage of this, along with the vastly increased speed that came with being a wind mage, and danced circles around her. She was unable to do much of anything, except block against his vicious attacks.
Sir Roger was faring a little better, even getting in a few hits, but his bandit was a fire mage just like he was, so his fiery mace had little effect. As the two continuously exchanged blows, their only thoughts were ‘this is going to be an endurance match, the one who runs low on magic first will lose’.
But this wasn’t going to be an endurance match. The bandit threw a small fireball at Sir Roger, trying to distract him enough to inflict a little damage with his sword. Sir Roger blocked the fireball with a swing of his mace, following through and hitting the ground, creating a small explosion that threw the bandit back. As the bandit tried to recover his footing, he saw a blinding flash of light in the corner of his eye, and everything went dark.
Roland had turned his attention away from the mass of bandits and fired a beam of light from his sword at the bandit, piercing straight through his eye and vaporizing the bandit’s brain. Sir Roger was briefly stunned, as he had been about to take advantage of the bandit’s loss of footing, but quickly recovered. He turned and nodded to Roland, as the paladin sliced through three more bandits and ran over.
Together, the two joined Dame Sheira. Just before this, the lady knight had thrust her spear into the ground, a foolish move that would all but disarm anyone else, but Dame Sheira knew what she was doing. The wind mage she was fighting was too fast, and he was starting to get a read on her movements, as she felt the air was starting to vibrate and throw off her defense. Her only option now was to use her magic in a different way.
The bandit saw her thrusting the spear into the ground, and lunged forward, aiming for Dame Sheira’s throat. Just as he got within range, he felt his foot slip when it hit the ground, and he ended up sliding forward and falling flat onto a layer of ice emanating from the spear tip. Dame Sheira smiled at him, and raised her spear, not wasting a second before thrusting into the bandit’s chest.
“Good work! Now go help the others!” shouted Roland.
The knights nodded, and Sir Roger moved to assist Sir Andrew, while Dame Sheira left to support the thanes. The two fourth-tier mages were just barely enough to tie down Sir Andrew, but with Sir Roger reinforcing him, the bandits were quickly overpowered and killed. Likewise, the three other fourth-tier bandits were a match for the three fourth-tier thanes, but as Dame Sheira arrived, the balance quickly tipped in favor of the warriors.
“You damn barbarians!” shouted the bandit leader. He swung his sword in a vertical slash, and when it hit the ground, a row of rock spikes began erupting from the ground. Torfinn easily dodged them, but the warriors behind him were not so lucky. Three warriors were killed, while five more were injured.
Torfinn grit his teeth in rage and held his ax so tight that his stony knuckles turned white. He roared and charged at the bandit leader. He swung his ax with as much force as he could muster, but the bandit leader ducked and weaved around them, striking at Torfinn’s exposed stomach as he did so. Fortunately, Torfinn’s rock armor was barely even scratched, and he kept swinging.
Most of the benefits of earth magic were greatly increased strength, at the cost of speed, but the bandit leader seemed to buck this trend. Torfinn swung again and again, but he hit nothing but air. The bandit leader, for his part, took every opportunity to hit Torfinn. The calves, shoulders, an exposed elbow when Torfinn overswung, he missed none of them. But every time, he would only chip off a little bit of rock, and Torfinn would keep swinging.
Torfinn’s fighting style left few true openings for the bandit leader to exploit, with only his rocky armor exposed, which left the bandit increasingly frustrated. He could also see his allies being cut down one by one, which had him feeling desperate to finish off Torfinn quickly.
“I’ll kill you!” Torfinn shouted, his killing intent soaring, even to the point of making many of the weaker bandits in his vicinity queasy. The warriors didn’t miss a beat, cutting down the bandits in their moment of weakness, but the bandit leader was unaffected.
Torfinn raised his ax, and swung downwards at him, putting every ounce of his prodigious strength behind it. The bandit leader wasn’t stupid enough to take that hit and jumped back as fast as he could. The ax passed by his face so close it shaved off a few of his hairs, but the bandit leader had just barely made it. The ax hit the ground, and large cracks spread out like a spider web.
He took a few more steps back, then made a risky move. He dropped down low, placing his free hand on the ground. Torfinn, in his rage, continued moving forward, intent on pressing the bandit leader, when small rock spikes suddenly shot out from the ground, aimed at Torfinn’s leg. They weren’t meant to do any real damage to the tribal chief, and their sharp points even shattered when trying to impale Torfinn’s leg, but they trapped his foot just as Torfinn was taking a step. The chief fell, just barely catching himself before his face hit the ground.
The bandit leader wasn’t going to miss this opportunity and kicked Torfinn down just as he was trying to rise. He raised his sword above Torfinn, preparing to put all of his weight behind it and drive it into the back of Torfinn’s skull when a bright light illuminated everything behind him.
This light was Roland’s sword, shining like a hundred magic street lanterns. The paladin had moved to assist Torfinn just as the chief ran into trouble and arrived just in time. The bandit leader didn’t even have time to bring his sword down before Roland’s bright blade removed both of his arms, only leaving a pair of slightly smoking stumps.
The bandit leader fell, screaming in pain. Torfinn immediately wrenched his foot free of the rock spikes holding it down and grabbed his ax. He raised it above him and brought it down upon the bandit leader’s head so hard that the ground beneath it shattered.
By now, the bandits were thoroughly demoralized, and with their strongest fighters dead, they were quickly finished off. It took a few minutes of clean-up, but the entire open-air portion of the fort was completely secured.
There wasn’t a single warrior without a bloodied weapon, and many were already thinking about how to describe their glorious victory.
Leon and the squire’s performance during the battle were equally glorious. They had killed half a dozen bandits apiece and were surrounded by the proof. The knights and thanes had cut clean through the bandits after the leaders were killed, and the warriors had wrapped things up from there, surrounding and pushing the bandits into a tight group that they dispatched quite quickly.
But none were as astonishing as Artorias. He was standing amid a pile of about two to three dozen dead bandits, with not a single hair out of place, smiling serenely like he was out on a stroll through a summer meadow.
But despite the fighting dying down, the job wasn’t done. Two of Dame Sheira’s men-at-arms went and secured the entrance to the cave, while Roland examined the runes carved into it. After determining that they only scattered magic senses and didn’t have any dangerous function, Roland ordered the men-at-arms to follow him in taking the cave. They were followed by Torfinn, his thanes, and half a dozen third-tier warriors.
Everyone was on high alert, they didn’t know what was in the cave and weren’t too keen on being ambushed. Fortunately, nothing jumped out at them, and after a short walk, they found themselves in a large well-lit and furnished cavern. There were couches, tables, chairs, dressers, carpets on the floor, and a multitude of magic lanterns illuminating the place.
The group quickly determined that there weren’t any more bandits hiding in there and moved on to the doors. There were three on one side, and three more on the opposite. The three on the right side were just the bedrooms for the bandit leaders, with little of note within. The other three, however, were a much different story.
One opened into another large cavern, filled with food and large crates packed full of raw silkgrass. This was presumably the loot that had been taken from the raided village. Another opened onto the largest cavern yet, with space and furniture to fit over three hundred bandits, though it was clear that all the bunks weren’t being used. The last door led to a long flight of stairs, descending further into the mountain. While the third-tier warriors secured the living quarters, Roland, Torfinn, and the thanes followed the stairs.
At the bottom, they found twenty large prison cells, full of frightened tribesmen. They had been kept in near perpetual darkness for several days now, so they recoiled back when the door opened and squinted as light from the stairway flooded into the prison.
The knights and warriors stared in shock for a moment, before immediately rushing to open the cell doors. When the doors were opened, the tribesmen continued to shrink back in fear, until one older man’s eyes finally grew accustomed to the light, and he could see the warriors.
“Chief Torfinn? Is that you?”
“Yes, yes it is.” Torfinn didn’t know the man’s name, but he quickly came forward to help him to his feet.
As the old man got a better look at Torfinn, he allowed himself to believe his eyes and started crying with joy.
“Everyone! The Brown Bear warriors came for us!”
With that, the frightened tribesmen relaxed and allowed the warriors to lead them out of their cells. As the knowledge that they were now safe sank in, they too began to cry, some in joy at being rescued, and some in sorrow at remembering everyone killed when the bandits attacked their village.
Torfinn walked up to Roland, who was helping the last of the villagers out of the cells. He had a serious look in his eye, and what he said shocked Roland.
“I’d like to apologize to you, knight. When you arrived in Valetown, I was quite rude to you, as were my people. If it weren’t for you, not only would I probably not have rescued my people, but those fifth-tier warriors the bandits had would have killed the entire war party.” Torfinn pulled Roland into a brief hug but didn’t release Roland’s shoulders after it was over.
“You saved my life during the battle. You have proven yourself to be a friend to the Brown Bear Tribe.” Torfinn pulled Roland into another brief hug before finally releasing the paladin. “We’re going to escort these villagers back to their homes, then the war party will return to Vale Town. When we return, I’ll fulfill my side of the bargain, and provide you with a guide to the Heartwood Trees you seek.”
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