Leon, Alix, and Anzu stood upon the wide ramparts of the first wall, surrounded by other Legion soldiers watching the siege towers slowly inch closer and closer. Even with each pulled and pushed by hundreds of peasants, the ten siege towers were slow and cumbersome things.
The Legion soldiers, including Leon and Alix, readied their bows to fire as soon as the towers entered effective arrow range. When Leon’s group arrived at the central gatehouse where Minerva had set up her command center, the lady knight had accepted his request for assignment and sent him to the central gatehouse of the outer-most wall, the place where the enemy was most likely to assault as well as the most heavily defended section of the wall. She knew that this would be the safest place for Leon while also giving him the opportunity to participate in the battle.
On the way to Minerva’s command center, Leon ran into Lapis. The stone giant wanted to join Leon in battle again, but as this was going to be a battle on the walls rather than out in the open where the giant could bring its bulk to bear, Leon had to refuse. He wasn’t sure whether or not the walls would be able to support Lapis’ weight, and even if they could, the giant would only get in the way of the rest of the Legion soldiers. With that out of the picture, the only real possibility for Lapis to join in the fighting would be to venture beyond the wall, leaving it alone and vulnerable to Talfar attack, which Leon didn’t want.
He’d grown a fair amount of trust and respect for the giant. At first, he’d been extremely wary of it involving itself in his affairs, but they’d fought alongside each other enough times now for some trust in the giant to grow.
“So, this is familiar,” Alix said to Leon, her slightly trembling voice bringing him out of his thoughts.
Leon grimly grinned. “This time is a lot different than that Valeman raid, though,” he said. “You ready with that thing?” he asked, pointedly looking at the bow she had in her hand.
“Of course,” she replied, a challenging smile quickly replacing her anxious expression. She’d trained plenty with the bow during their time at the Horns, and Leon knew that she had gained a certain proficiency with the weapon. She’d even displayed some of that new skill when dealing with the smugglers. “I think the real one who might not be ready is this little guy,” Alix said while stroking Anzu’s head.
The griffin was shaking like a leaf in the wind. He was still only the equivalent of a second-tier mage, and the sound and rising aura of the approaching Talfar army was terrifying him to the point that he didn’t mind someone other than Leon touching him.
“Hey, there, buddy,” Leon whispered, pulling the griffin into a tight hug. It almost seemed to Leon that the griffin had been growing at a noticeable rate over the past few weeks, but right now his fur and feathers were pressed so tightly against his body that he almost seemed to have halved in size.
Anzu chirped and whimpered in Leon’s arms, but he slowly calmed down and stopped shaking.
“Just stick with me, little one,” Leon continued. He was starting to regret bringing Anzu, but he also didn’t want to leave the griffin behind again, and he knew that this experience would help the young beast harden his nerve and refine his killing intent.
But the air was thick with the aura of hundreds of thousands of mages, and their combined killing intent almost seemed solid. It might have been the early morning darkness or the dust and smoke in the air, but everything east of the vale had become faded and desaturated in his eyes, and Leon was fairly certain that the oppressive aura that the Talfar army had built up was the cause. He could feel the pressure of that aura on his shoulders, weighing him down to a slight degree and making the air feel heavy and unsatisfying to breathe.
“Nock!” shouted the Tribune in charge of the rest of the Legion soldiers on the roof of the gatehouse, and the soldiers lined up and nocked arrows to their bowstrings, preparing to fire. The front line of the advancing Talfar army was a little over eight hundred feet away, or just a few steps past the maximum effective range of Legion bows.
Leon stood up and Anzu pressed his head into Leon’s hip for comfort. Leon patted the griffin on the head, then nodded to Alix in solidarity. Alix nodded back with a confident grin that Leon wasn’t entirely sure was genuine given the size of the opposing force, but he smiled back at her regardless. Both joined the Legion soldiers that were busy readying their bows.
“Draw!” shouted the Tribune, and the soldiers drew back their bowstrings.
Only a few seconds more and the real battle would begin in earnest. No more small-scale skirmishes outside the walls, no more fighting for less than an hour and returning home; the main event was about to start, where Arthwyn and Owain would throw their full might against the walls of the Horns in the hopes of bringing them down.
And the Legion would meet that might with everything they had. They’d been waiting for over a week now for this moment, and they weren’t going to waste it. Soldiers and knights along the walls prepared their weapons and loaded trebuchets.
“Loose!” the Tribune shouted, and the hundred or so soldiers on the wide roof of the gatehouse fired their arrows, along with the thousands of other soldiers along the ramparts and in the dozens of other towers.
Arrows fell upon the advancing Talfar army like a heavy downpour, bouncing off helmets and getting lodged in cloth gambeson, and Legion trebuchets sent their payloads flying overhead. A few of the stronger Talfar mages used various magics to destroy or swat away huge numbers of arrows, but most still got through. The projectiles thrown by the Legion trebuchets, however, caused a lot more damage, with stones and chunks of ice exploding in the air and peppering the Talfar ranks with shrapnel, or stones wrapped in spells bursting in great torrents of flame.
The Talfar infantry fell in the hundreds, but it wasn’t enough. Many of those that fell could simply stand back up and keep moving, as they were young fit mages. The arrows that fell into the ranks of the peasants were more effective, but there were so many levies that even those that were killed were swiftly replaced.
Leon targeted one of the leaders of the advancing battalions, a fifth-tier warrior in dark blue mail and black leather. Leon’s arrow, augmented with a sheet of spell paper tied around the shaft, pierced through a gap in the warrior’s armor near his shoulder, and before the warrior could react, he burst into bright white flame.
Along the entire line, Leon could see a few similar sights, with other mages using spells to make their arrow fire just a little more deadly, mostly involving actual fire. He saw one warrior get hit with an arrow only for the ground beneath him to erupt and impale him on a massive spike, raising him into the air for the entire Talfar army to see.
The peasants began to slow down, but the Talfar infantry kept moving in disciplined, orderly lines despite their casualties. After the initial volley, the Legion archers along the walls began to fire at will, as firing in volleys would make it too easy for Talfar mages to block the arrow fire. Still, arrows fell upon the advancing Talfar battalions thick enough to kill or injure in droves.
Leon, too, kept firing, with his white-fire spells instantly killing almost everyone he shot.
When the front ranks of the Talfar army reached within five hundred feet of the walls, they began to shoot back, but to little effect. The battlements were tall and thick, and the angle that the few Talfar archers were firing at was particularly disadvantageous.
At four hundred feet, the Talfar lines were wracked with fiery explosions, but they still kept marching forward.
At three hundred feet, a long line of stone spikes burst from the ground to impale hundreds and create a long line of thin spiky barricades that impeded the Talfar advance. However, the Talfar mages were ready for this, and in less than five minutes most of the spikes had been rendered into gravel beneath the feet of the Talfar infantry.
At two hundred feet, the Talfar lines tightened up to protect each other from the withering Legion arrow fire.
At one hundred feet, hundreds of peasants ran through the professional infantry carrying huge ramps and ladders. They tried to approach the wall to set up their siege equipment and allow the regular infantry to assault the walls in earnest, but they ran into a pocket of magically compressed air in front of the wall, bouncing back like they had run into a giant pillow.
It would take a great deal of effort to get past that enchantment for mortal or first-tier peasants, but the same couldn’t be said for the siege towers. These great lumbering beasts slowly rolled along behind Talfar’s front battalions, and no matter how many arrows were shot into them, they kept coming. The peasants moving them were killed by the dozen, but the Talfar Warrior-Captains made sure that there were always more to replace them.
And then an explosion ripped through a Legion company near Leon’s gatehouse. The wall shuddered, but little damage was done to it; the thirty Legion soldiers caught in the blast, however, were killed almost to a man, leaving the rest of the company to stare at the hole in their line where their friends had just been.
Leon blinked in confusion and momentary shock and fear. He frantically searched for a sign of what had just happened, for who or what had created that explosion, but there didn’t seem to be any strong mages near the wall.
“GET DOWN!” the Tribune on the gatehouse roof roared, and his soldiers ducked behind the battlements, with Leon, Alix, and Anzu right behind them.
Something big impacted the gatehouse, then immediately exploded in a massive pillar of fire.
“Fucking hells!” Alix uncontrollably screamed as the roar of the explosion pressed down on her ears and a wave of heat washed over everyone on the gatehouse roof.
Leon managed to keep relatively calm, but he had to grab Anzu and hold the griffin tight against him so that Anzu wouldn’t lose his mind and start attacking everyone he could see out of panic.
When the fire died down, Leon released the terrified Anzu and glanced around the roof. Most of the soldiers were fine, but a few were treating burns. The strong wards around the gatehouse did their job and protected them, for the most part.
“They’re breaking out their own trebuchets!” the Tribune shouted, explaining what had happened. The Talfar army had finally reached for their own siege engines now that the Legion was too preoccupied with the infantry at the foot of the wall to shoot back at their bigger weapons.
Leon stuck his head between the merlons of the battlements and searched for the offending trebuchet, assuming that he’d simply missed it when they were wheeled out due to being too preoccupied with the Talfar infantry closer to the wall. However, he couldn’t see any trebuchets or other siege weapons of the like that hit the gatehouse and nearby section of wall.
And then three more explosions hit the first wall in quick succession, killing scores of Legion soldiers. Two more trebuchet shots hit the ground in front of the wall, exploding harmlessly between the wall and the Talfar infantry.
“Shit! They’re keeping their trebuchets in the smoke!” a nearby Centurion shouted.
Leon grimaced. If the Talfar army kept their siege weapons hidden in the smoke of Constantine’s burning fort, then they couldn’t be attacked. They would have to have spotters, but Leon couldn’t attack them, either, as finding the spotters in a mass of two hundred thousand Talfar soldiers would be an exercise in futility.
“Get back up! Get back to shooting!” the Tribune bellowed, urging his soldiers to keep up the pressure on the Talfar infantry who weren’t going to stop for the Legion to regain its bearings. Leon, too, snapped back to the task at hand. He couldn’t do anything about the trebuchets, so he would have to trust in the defensive wards of the gatehouse and focus on what he could do, that being to shoot the Talfar infantry as they continued to advance.
But he quickly realized that the infantry wasn’t the primary problem; a Talfar siege tower was advancing straight toward the gatehouse, and it had already closed to within five hundred feet.
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