The shout came from above them, behind the concrete riverbank and parapet. The team immediately leaped to their feet, knowing their cover had been blown.
Leon and Grim glanced at each other, then jumped clean over the riverbank, with their second-tier squires not far behind. Little Anzu, meanwhile, shrieked at being left behind and sprinted up the ramp connecting the pier to the riverbank.
The team was faced with half a dozen young mages, dirty and ragged after spending most of the day looting the island. Four of them were armed with swords, while the weakest two had only their fists. They were standing in the small courtyard of U-shaped villa and seemed to have been dividing the spoils of their looting when they heard the team pull themselves out of the water. The villa itself had been enchanted to prevent it from burning down, but there was broken and burned furniture all around from when the place had been ransacked.
‘One fourth-tier, two third-tier, a second-tier, and two first-tier mages,’ Leon quickly identified.
“Drop your wea-“ Grim began, but Leon didn’t wait; he lunged forward before anyone could blink and skewered the closest mage to him—one of the first-tier mages—then allowed his killing intent to erupt.
The first-tier looters collapsed in fear, while the second and third-tier looters froze up. Only the fourth-tier looter was strong enough to fight off Leon’s killing intent, even though it took him several seconds. By then, Leon had already killed the third-tier looter and Grim quickly advanced toward him.
The fourth-tier looter raised his sword, ready to fight, but he was so surprised and terrified from Leon’s blisteringly fast attack that he didn’t even realize how much stronger Grim’s aura was compared to his own. The looter lunged forward, fighting through the fear brought on by Leon’s intense killing intent to slash down at Grim’s head. Grim, almost with disdainful ease, blocked the strike and, with a flick of his wrist, sent the looter’s sword flying through the air.
In this time, Alix and Grim’s squire had engaged the other two second-tier looters, with Alix killing hers. Anzu had also joined the battle, sprinting up from the pier to tackle the remaining first-tier looter and tear out his throat.
Less than a minute after hearing the shout, Leon and the rest of the team had killed the entire group of looters save for the fourth-tier mage, and even he had been disarmed and disabled by Grim.
“Do you think maybe you could wait for me to finish asking them to surrender before you attack next time?” Grim asked Leon with exasperation.
“Did you actually think they were going to surrender?” Leon countered with a look of confusion.
“No, but while they are violent rioters, they are also citizens of the Bull Kingdom. We should at least ask for their surrender first before killing them.”
“They were given their chance to give up hours ago, when Sir Avremar first tried to retake the district.”
Grim sighed, knowing that Leon had a point, but killing these young men without warning still didn’t sit right with him.
“I’m with Sir Adalgrim,” Alix said. “We should try and take as many of these people prisoner as we can!”
“I’m pretty sure that with Prince Trajan now here, this has been classified as a rebellion,” Leon mentioned. “Everyone participating in the looting is going to be executed for defying a Prince so violently, or at least imprisoned for life…” As Leon spoke, he glanced down at the first-tier mage he killed. The boy barely appeared any older than Leon did. “… But, fine, I can wait a few seconds if you want to ask the next group of rioters we come across if they’re willing to surrender.”
“That’s all I ask,” Grim said, while Alix smiled at Leon’s agreement.
The fourth-tier looter was tied up and knocked unconscious before they left. Grim would have him picked up when the district was retaken. It wasn’t that difficult to knock him out, as he had been staring in horror at Anzu tearing apart his first-tier comrade; the griffin hadn’t stopped at the mage’s throat, and was using his claws and beak to rip the mage to shreds.
“Anzu!” Leon shouted while Grim saw to the fourth-tier looter. The griffin froze, and Leon curled his finger in a ‘come over here’ gesture. Anzu complied, hanging his head as he could tell from Leon’s tone that he’d made a mistake. Leon stared at the albino griffin, shaking his head at the bloody mess that marred his fur and feathers. “You’re getting a long bath when we get home,” he said.
“Let’s get moving,” Grim whispered after he finished tying up the last looter. “We only have about an hour before the assault is supposed to begin, and we don’t know how much of the district is passable.”
Leon nodded, and the team swiftly departed the villa.
The guild district had been built upon one of the islands in the Tyrrhenian river delta that had been inhabited for thousands of years. It was a small fishing village before the Bull Kingdom had been formed, then turned into a fort not long into the reign of the first Bull King. Ariminium was slowly built up over the following five thousand years.
Unfortunately, the age of the settlement on the island meant that the guild district was one of the few islands in the delta that wasn’t built on a grid. The streets were paved over old dirt paths, and they weaved in and around each other making navigation through the district nearly impossible for anyone who wasn’t already familiar with the layout The fire ravaging the district only exacerbated this problem.
As soon as they left the villa, Leon and Grim took a hard right, but were immediately stopped in their tracks; their path was blocked by a neighboring building that had collapsed. What was worse, the ruins were still burning in an almost monumental bonfire.
“Shit…” Leon muttered. “Where to now?”
“We should be able to go around,” Alix replied. She had brought a map and had broken it out as soon as she saw that their original path was a no-go. “This way,” she said, pointing to another street ahead of them.
They were standing in a small square with a small obelisk in the center. It was actually quite similarly laid out to Leon’s home back in the Forest of Black and White, but Leon actively prevented himself from thinking about that, as he had a job to do. Across the square were two more narrow streets that led away at seemingly random angles. They were as winding and twisted as all the other streets in the district, so the team couldn’t see far down them.
What was more, the fire in the district had filled the streets with smoke. However, that wasn’t enough to completely blind Leon. He smiled at the opportunity to finally make use of one of the powers he had been training for over the past year and released his magic senses. He couldn’t cover that great of a distance, only about fifty feet, but it was enough that he was confident that they weren’t going to be ambushed.
Feeling the surge of magic power and knowing what it meant, Grim whistled appreciatively; his own magic senses were slightly inferior to Leon’s, but only by a handful of feet.
Without another word, the team plunged into the depths of the smoky district. The air was hot, and it was hard to breathe, but they kept a good pace.
“Right,” Alix said, staring at her map and directing them through the narrow streets and alleys. “Left... Right… Right… Straight ahead…”
“Hold up,” Leon whispered, calling the group to a halt. “Rioters ahead!”
“Let’s check it out,” Grim muttered, and the four began to creep forward, keeping low and in any shadows that the fires left. Even Anzu kept low and quiet, sensing the need for stealth from Leon’s body language.
They quickly caught sight of their enemy: seven more rioters, three of whom were actively spreading the fire by hurling burning pieces of wood into nearby buildings and cackling like maniacs. The other four simply watched and chatted amongst themselves. None of them had any idea that Leon and the others were less than thirty feet away.
Leon glanced at Grim, wordlessly asking the other knight if he was going to demand these mages surrender. Grim shook his head, as it was clear from their actions, bloody clothes, and slight aura of killing intent that they probably weren’t going to surrender, and Leon jumped straight into the air.
Leon put serious strength into his jump, easily reaching high enough to pull himself up to the roof of the four-story row of townhouse-like villas next to them. In the same movement he used to pull himself up, he began sprinting over the roof toward the rioters and called upon his magic. He could feel his mana change into lightning magic and channeled it into his right arm, where the runes on his gauntlet began to gently glow. There, his magic formed a brilliant golden lightning spear.
In only a few short strides, Leon arrived just above the rioters and jumped again. This time he wasn’t going for height but plunged down toward his targets with tremendous speed. As soon as he landed, he slammed his lightning spear into the ground like an over-sized stake, causing it to erupt in an explosion of golden sparks and arcs of lightning right in the center of the seven rioters.
The three spreading the fire were the weaker of the seven, being third-tier or weaker, and they were killed instantly by Leon’s lightning. The other four were all of the fourth-tier, but they were caught completely off-guard and with their magic uncalled. Leon’s magic ravaged them, his lightning scorching and searing their flesh and rampaging through their internal organs. Two of them were dead before they hit the ground, and the last pair of rioters died after taking a few ragged breaths.
“I guess that’s one way to eliminate the threat,” Grim drily stated as he and the rest of the team emerged from behind the debris they’d been crouched behind. “Though, I would appreciate it if you left some for the rest of us…”
“To the fastest goes the glory,” Leon said with an enormous smile. He felt amazing, if a little drained, after releasing his power without holding back. It was one thing to spar with Alix or Trajan, and another to let loose against hostile mages.
With that feeling of strength and power, he suddenly understood why it was fairly common for some mages to become drunk on their own power and disregard the law in favor of their own whims and desires.
Grim chuckled at the obvious challenge, then said, “We need to keep moving; only a few more minutes until the assault begins.”
It was late and much of the district was still burning, so there weren’t many looters and rioters still out on the streets. Consequently, Leon’s team arrived at the place they were to wait without encountering any more enemies with only ten minutes or so to spare. They quietly infiltrated a small clock tower and waited for the horn blast that would signal the Legions’ assault. The few rioting mages that were still outside were mostly concentrated around the bridges, with the exception of a few scattered looters still running around.
“Looks like fifty down there,” Alix said as she stared down at the barricaded bridge a couple hundred feet away from the top of the tower.
“I counted sixty,” Grim said.
“And I only got forty-five…” Leon replied.
“I suppose the exact count doesn’t matter that much,” Grim conceded. “We just have to secure this side of the bridge and help the Legion tear down those barricades.”
“How many guild mages do you think are in the surrounding buildings?” Leon asked, glancing at about a dozen conspicuously unburnt villas next to the bridge. He tried to see within using his magic senses, but his magic was scattered as soon as it touched the buildings.
“Could be as many as several hundred,” Grim responded. “I heard from Sir Avremar that the first time we tried to take these bridges, they had been guarded by about five hundred mages apiece…”
Leon frowned a little; five hundred guild mages against a battalion of Legion soldiers would’ve been massacred if they had been fighting out in the open. Instead, the Legion had to cross a bridge filled with wooden barricades and covered in trap spells. Re-taking the district would require a serious push to get past the bridges.
As Leon sat and thought about the problem at hand, Anzu curled up by his leg and started pressing himself against Leon like a cat that wanted attention. Leon complied and rubbed Anzu’s feathered head.
“Only five minutes left…” Alix reminded.
“Let’s get ready,” Grim said.
Leon and Alix smiled at each other in anticipation. Despite already exerting themselves in the two small skirmishes they’d had, both were looking forward to the battle ahead of them. They’d been stuck in training for far too long.
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