Chapter 248 - Trajan's Response

Within the Bull Kingdom, most buildings were single-story structures, two stories at the most.  Larger cities like Ariminium or the capital had many buildings that were taller, but these were the exception.  Because even first-tier mages could jump high enough to climb on these buildings, there were very specific laws prohibiting running along rooftops.

Trajan, his Legates, and Leon all ignored these laws as they sprinted toward the keep of the Southern Horn.  They left more than a few broken roof shingles in their wake, but minor damage that Trajan could easily pay for wasn’t on his mind; Constantine’s horn had been sounded, and they could hear the distant sounds of massive formations of cavalry beginning to charge.

Due to their haste and unorthodox route, Trajan’s group reached the keep in a matter of minutes from the market square.  There, they found Minerva waiting for them with a dozen horses.  She knew what the Prince was up to, and so had prepared for his arrival.

“See to your duties!” Trajan shouted to his Legates.  About half weren’t combat knights, and so they ran into the keep to get to work.  The rest of the Legates joined Leon and Trajan as they mounted horses.  They were to lead the cavalry to aid in the evacuation of the fort.

As they rode, Minerva reported, “The enemy has launched an all-out assault on the fortifications in the vale, there probably won’t be many who survive out there.”

“I see,” Trajan grimly responded.  “Still, we must go.  I doubt Constantine’s fort will fall so easily, at least.”

“True, but we may lose those in the outlying towers…”

Trajan sighed, then asked, “And those on the walls?”

“The outer walls are ready,” Minerva replied.

“Good.”

When they reached the main gates of the walls, three thousand of the finest cavalry the Bull Kingdom could muster were waiting for them, which, unfortunately, wasn’t saying much.  In an inverse to the Talfar Kingdom, the Bull Kingdom focused primarily on its infantry, leaving their cavalry with little official funding for gear.  They were lightly armored units, more suited to roles as rapid-moving skirmishers than the heavy shock units of the Talfar military.  Even their horses weren’t that great, as those knights that could afford the expense rode more exotic magical creatures, like stags, lions, and even a few large wolves.  The horses didn’t seem too pleased with the presence of these creatures, but they were trained well enough that it wasn’t an issue.

Trajan rode over to the front of the formation with Leon at his side, his Legates spreading themselves out down the line.  The Prince made no speeches, there was no time for them.  He simply hardened his skin with magic, summoned his armor from his soul realm, and nodded to the gate guards.

The portcullis began to open, but as it did, the ground began to shake and shudder as enormous footsteps were heard; when Leon turned to curiously investigate, he saw Lapis making its way toward him.

“I would come with you, Div-… Leon.”

“Well, I would hazard a guess that anyone as strong as you are would be welcome to come along…” Leon responded as he looked to Trajan for confirmation.  The Prince took one look at the stone giant and nodded.  Lapis had fought with them enough by now that Trajan was no longer worried about the stone giants’ loyalties or willingness to fight with the Legion, he simply accepted the help when it was offered.

In truth, the Prince was quite glad that the giant offered in the first place.  He only asked Lapis to participate in the failed ambush against Bran several days ago because he needed every person he could get to fight against Bran.  But he was a Prince, a Consul, and an Exarch, and he couldn’t ask for help a second time for fear of eroding the dignity of the Bull Kingdom.

But, fortunately, the stone giant asked to come along, making the Legion’s force that much stronger.

When the portcullises opened, Trajan led the Legion cavalry through, with Leon right at his side.  He couldn’t help but lament that many of his plans for the continued fortification of the Horns hadn’t had the chance to be implemented, such as the barely-started digging of the moat in front of the first wall or digging pits in front of the main gates and installing drawbridges, but that was life.  He had to deal with the Talfar Kingdom without these additions.

Once the last portcullis was being raised, Trajan glanced back at his followers.  He could tell from the massive aura they created and the killing intent they filled the air with that they were ready.  The Prince nodded to Leon, who nodded back.

For his part, Leon wasn’t looking forward to the battle if only for the fact that he wasn’t yet comfortable with fighting on horseback.  The horse Trajan lent him was highly trained and one of the few in the Legion stables that could compare favorably to those ridden by Talfar cataphracts, but these facts did little to alleviate his lack of confidence.  Still, he wasn’t about to shy away from this fight.

The last portcullis opened, and Trajan spurred his horse into a rapid charge.  He summoned his war hammer and raised it into the air, giving a tremendous war cry as he rode out of the gatehouse that was echoed by almost every single knight and man-at-arms in the column.

The Talfar cavalry weren’t expecting the Legion to ride out and fight them on their terms, so they were taken completely by surprise.  That said, they had stayed as far from the triple-layered walls as they could get away with, in order to stay out of range of Legion bows.  This wasn’t entirely effective, as the Legion archers with the aid of enchanted bows could shoot far indeed, but they still had a fair amount of time to respond to Trajan’s counter-attack.

Those closest to the wall, who were also the farthest rank from Constantine’s fort, formed up into a rough line to meet the Legion charge head-on, but there was no true way they could prepare for Lapis’ charge.  The stone giant sprinted out in front of the column, moving at a speed that would’ve been nearly impossible for anyone to expect of a being that size made entirely of stone.  The giant shrugged off a fireball launched from a nearby fifth-tier Talfar cataphract, then smashed into the cavalry line, sending men and horses flying through the air in pieces.  Spikes erupted around it, impaling dozens more cataphracts, then fractured into tiny pebbles and exploded outward, peppering the horsemen further back.

In an instant, more than a hundred Talfar cataphracts were killed.  More importantly, however, was the hole that Lapis punched in their line, which Trajan rode directly into, with the rest of the Legion column right behind him.

The Prince swung his hammer like it weighed nothing, and in every direction he swung, great rents were opened in the earth, not doing much in the way of direct damage but sending cataphracts tumbling down into the gaps.  Those unfortunate souls that hit the ground first were crushed as more bodies fell upon them, and the Talfar lines were broken again.  Making matters worse, their own earth mages couldn’t close these rents without burying the cataphracts that survived the fall.

Trajan wasn’t the only person liberally using his magic, right behind him Leon was conjuring lightning bolts and hurling them as fast he could.  Each bolt would explode upon a cataphract, superheating their armor past the point where their enchantments could compensate, cooking them in their own protective gear.  The lightning would then arc outwards, startling horses and hurting other cataphracts.

Fortunately, neither Leon’s horse nor the rest of the Legion horses were panicking from the lightning that Leon was summoning or the accompanying thunder that Leon did nothing to dampen.  These sights and sounds weren’t too uncommon on the battlefield when mages capable of elemental magic were involved, and so most war mounts had been trained with that in mind.

Behind Leon and Trajan, the rest of the Legates and Tribunes were opening up with their own magics, ripping chunks through the Talfar lines.  A few Talfar mages were able to retaliate, so it wasn’t as if the Legion were simply walking through the Talfar lines, and many of the cataphracts’ armor were able to resist their magical attacks, but the Legion column was much denser with mages capable of elemental magic than the Talfar cataphracts, and most of those higher-tiered Talfar mages were closer to Constantine’s fort, so Trajan’s cavalry column was able to carve a bloody path through the outer lines of Talfar cataphracts.

They were eventually forced to slow down as the ground ahead became too broken from magic, the bodies of soldiers and cataphracts piled up, and the air became choked with dust and smoke, further obscuring the view of those in the vale beyond the late-night darkness.  A sixth-tier cataphract tried to take advantage by charging at Trajan, hoping to strike a mortal blow against the Legion soldiers by taking the head of their Prince.

“Hear me, Trajan!” the Warrior-Chief roared as he spurred his horse into a charge.  “I am Mihangel, the man who will take your he-“  As he was busy identifying himself, Lapis appeared from the smoke of the battlefield and with a swipe of its long rocky arm, took out the legs of Mihangel’s horse, sending the man crashing to the ground.  The stone giant didn’t waste a second, immediately conjuring a stone spike from the ground and impaling the Warrior-Chief before he could react.

Trajan might have laughed at the absurdity, but not in the middle of a battle.  He could spare no more attention to that Warrior-Chief after his failure.  He could only keep pushing forward.

By the time the Legion cavalry column reached the walls of Constantine’s fort, they had lost a few hundred soldiers to the Talfar counter attacks, but they had left countless cataphracts and chariot teams dead in their wake.

The doors of the fort burst open upon their arrival, allowing Trajan, Leon, and several dozen other Legion soldiers to ride straight in.

“Constantine!” Trajan shouted, looking for his knight.

“Up here, Your Highness!” came an answering shout.

Both Leon and Trajan turned toward the voice and saw a warrior dressed in armor made of blood-red scales and wearing a helmet with the face of an indifferent god.  This warrior was pulling his sword out of the chest of a dying fifth-tier Talfar Warrior-Captain.

“Let’s go!  You’ve done your job!” Trajan shouted.

“On my way!” Constantine responded, leaving the fifth-tier Warrior-Captain who failed to realize he was challenging a sixth-tier mage with decades of experience over him.  “Let’s go, everyone!  Follow your Prince!”

The remaining soldiers within the fort leaped off the walls and assembled before Trajan.  The Talfar soldiers who they had been fighting with tried to immediately follow, but blasts of magic from Trajan, Constantine, Leon, and other Legion soldiers deterred them long enough for Constantine’s soldiers to join Trajan’s cavalry column and leave the fort.

“Those in the towers…?” Trajan succinctly asked when Constantine approached.

“All dead, I believe,” Constantine replied.  “Even if they are still alive, they’re now beyond reach…”

Trajan glanced over the plain, and from what little he could see through the dust and the haze of the dark battlefield, the towers had indeed all been destroyed, and the chariots, cataphracts, and infantry that had been dispatched to deal with them were being redirected toward Trajan’s cavalry column.  Even more dangerous, the surprise of their charge had worn off, and the Talfar forces that had surrounded Constantine’s fort were rapidly regaining their coordination.  Trajan knew that the Talfar army was about to push against them and that they couldn’t linger.

With a heavy heart, he wrote off those soldiers and knights in the towers as lost causes; he’d grabbed Constantine and the survivors from the fort, and that was what mattered.

“BACK TO THE HORNS!” the Prince roared, and the Legion cavalry turned around and left, this time with Leon and Trajan in the back rather than the front.  As they fell back, Lapis kept pace with Leon, using its earth magic to halt any enterprising Talfar cataphract or chariot from overtaking the rear of the Legion column.

When the Legion cavalry made it back to the effective ranges for arrow fire from the walls of the Horns, all pursuit from Talfar forces halted, letting the Prince and his horsemen return to the safety of the walls.

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Chapter 249 - Continued Assault I

Chapter 247 - Constantine's Stand