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For almost an hour Leon had been moving unseen through the Talfar camp. He burned down a small storage center for medical supplies, but he hadn’t realized that there had been a group of Talfar warriors behind the tent gathered around a small fire, and the loss of hundreds of healing spells and other medical supplies was initially blamed on them.
There was the possibility that the Talfar warriors that would have to investigate the incident might realize what happened, as the undisciplined and slovenly warriors left behind to guard the camp were suddenly and harshly made aware of Leon’s presence when the main storage tent erupted with a deafening, thunderous blast of yellow-orange fire.
‘Fucking shit!’ Leon thought as he instinctively ducked. He’d left about fifty white-fire spells and his last big explosion spell scattered around the tent and then got as far away as he could in the five minutes he’d given himself. He wound up back at the gate that he’d snuck through to get into the inner camp, and he crouched behind a nearby tent to watch.
Before his spells had gone off, he prepared another few spell-arrows, just in case. However, as he saw the massive tower of smoke rising from further back into the inner camp and felt the heat wash over him even with the distance between himself and the storage tent, he knew that further action wouldn’t be needed.
But he was not expecting such a massive explosion, and he was startled enough that he almost dropped his arrows.
Following the blast, bells and horns from around the camp began to sound off, though there was some delay as the indolent warriors scrambled to assemble into something that actually resembled a guard unit.
Meanwhile, most of the servants began to stream into the inner camp through its various gates, including the one Leon was hidden beside, and the young knight took the opportunity to creep back out into the outer camp while everyone was distracted with the fire.
There were undoubtedly other supply storage points scattered around the camp, but he guessed that the one he hit was the biggest and most important. He was also finally running low on fire spells, so any further actions taken to burn Talfar supplies might compromise his ability to fight, should the need arise. So, Leon began to make his way out of the camp, a euphoric feeling of accomplishment welling up in his chest.
Emrys, the Warrior-Chief that Arthwyn had sent to find whoever had destroyed five of their trebuchets, had to expand his search area after finding nothing in the western portion of the vale.
‘Whoever did this must be small in number, or they’ve already fled,’ the Warrior-Chief thought as he spread his sixth-tier magic senses out over as much of the vale as he could, yet finding nothing.
But then, a horseman entered his view, and Emrys shouted, “Halt!”
The horseman complied immediately. He wasn’t armed and he was dressed like a Talfar warrior, but Emrys wasn’t going to take any chances and had two of the other four chariots driving alongside his surround the man.
“Identify yourself!” Emrys demanded.
“I’m Gwerthefyr, I’m bringing news of an emergency back at the camp to the Marshal and His Highness!” the horseman replied.
“What emergency?” Emrys asked.
“An explosion has destroyed the supply tent in the inner camp!”
Emrys paled at this news. The inner camp was where nearly all of the spells that the trebuchets fired were stored, along with more than half of the food and potable water for the entire army.
“Proceed! And inform His Lordship that I am on my way to investigate personally!” Emrys shouted, and the messenger spurred his horse onward while Emrys had his chariots drive east.
Fire burned through the Talfar inner camp. The explosion was too big and appeared too suddenly for the resulting fires to be put out before they could spread to other tents, and now about a fifth of the entire inner camp had succumbed to the blaze. In the time it took for Leon to sneak all the way to the edges of the outer camp—a matter of minutes given how empty the camp was—the fires in the inner camp had grown to the point of almost being too big to put out.
But then, as servants hurriedly tried to move other tents out of the way of the raging flames, some of the stronger mages that had been guarding the outer camp reached the inner palisade. A few of these were elemental mages, and though there were only two fire mages and a single water mage in the group, the rest of them could still endure the heat enough to dive in and start trying to do what they could.
Unfortunately for them, the Tyrrhenian River was about four or five miles away, too far to be useful.
But that wasn’t going to be a good enough excuse if the inner camp burned down before the rest of the higher-ranked warriors returned. They had to at least contain the fire, and it looked like they were beginning to do just that as more and more mages strong enough to endure the fire and smoke went in to help.
All of this was of no real concern to Leon, though. He’d accomplished his goal, and all of the ravaging the camp was enduring at the hands of his fire was nothing more than a happy bonus. Besides, he was far too busy getting out of the camp to be worrying about what was happening back in the inner camp.
He’d run into something of a problem. With his attack, the guards at the gate were far more alert, and their attention had been turned inward. If he tried to get past them, his footsteps in the dirt might be noticed, not to mention they had assumed a tighter formation in front of the gate, preventing him from easily slipping past.
He could try to creep through the gaps between the guards, there was enough room for that at least, but if any of them so much as shifted their feet or adjusted their position, he could be instantly revealed for all the world to see.
‘No, better to wait for a better opportunity,’ Leon thought. He waited for another five minutes, staring at the guards as if this alone would get them to move. When it became clear that the guards weren’t going to give him a bigger window, Leon weighed his other options.
And he only had two that he could see: the first was to leave this gate and try another—‘All the gates can’t be guarded so diligently, can they?’—while his second was to jump over the palisade. But he couldn’t guarantee that the guards at the other gates were being any less attentive after his act of sabotage than the guards at the western gate, and he felt like every second that passed was making it increasingly likely that he was going to be discovered.
There was little chance in his mind that the main Talfar army wouldn’t send people back to reinforce their camp as soon as they heard about what had just happened, and the more people around, the likelier it was that he would be discovered. In other words, time was of the essence.
Leon clenched his teeth and decided to risk jumping the palisade. Even if his invisibility were dispelled, it would only take five minutes for his ring to recharge, so he felt like he could get away if he had enough of a head start. In order to give himself that head start, he began to follow the outer palisade away from the gate. He needed to be as far away from any other camp entrance as he could get so he wouldn’t be run down by a cavalryman if his invisibility failed.
His destination was one of the platform towers just behind the palisade. He silently drew his sword, and after taking only a few seconds to steady his breathing, he jumped. He didn’t want to leave enough time to talk himself out of this, as it might be too late when he thought of another plan.
His jump was perfect, he cleared the platform by just enough space to land almost completely silently. Fortunately, both of the warriors that were stationed in the tower were too distracted by the fire in the inner camp for that ‘almost’ to be an issue. Taking advantage of their distraction, Leon swiftly dispatched both guards with two lightning-fast strikes to the neck.
The bodies of the guards would be discovered in a matter of minutes, he was sure, as the platform had no walls and any of the other tower guards could plainly see that their comrades weren’t there anymore. By the time they were found, however, Leon planned to be long gone. Wasting no more time, Leon leaped as high as he could over the palisade. He passed over the air cushion that prevented anyone from jumping over from outside, clearing it by a wide margin, and sailed over the palisade and landing in the grass on the hill outside the camp.
Unfortunately, the air cushion wasn’t the only enchantment in the palisade. There was something there that he hadn’t perceived, so despite clearing the cushion, when he landed, he was completely visible.
‘Shit!’ Leon thought as he turned around and began to sprint away from the camp. He ran north-west, hoping that he wouldn’t be seen before he made it back into the cover of the smoke in the vale.
Lady Luck, however, was not on his side. He had barely made it to the foot of the shallow hill the Talfar camp was built on before five chariots came barreling out of the smoke several miles ahead of him. It wasn’t nearly dark enough for mages not to be able to see him, and there was nothing but grass and relatively flat plains between him and them. As Leon skid to a halt, he could see the looks of curiosity, then suspicion, and finally hostility as one of the charioteers shouted something that he couldn’t hear.
Leon had been accompanying Trajan every time he left the Horns over the course of this short war, and so he wasn’t too surprised that one of those charioteers recognized him. Of course, that didn’t change his situation. He had four minutes until he could turn invisible again, and the chariots would be on him in less than half that time.
Making a snap decision, Leon turned around and began running back east. He was trapped between the charioteers and the camp, and in his rapidly escalating panic, he could think of nowhere to run to except the forest on the east side of the Border Mountains. There were quite a handful of miles between him and it, though, and he hadn’t any doubts that he wouldn’t make it before the chariots caught up with him.
“STOP WHERE YOU ARE!” bellowed the man who Leon assumed to be in charge, a sixth-tier mage in the center chariot.
Leon hadn’t the intent to comply, and as he ran east, he released his magic senses to keep an eye on the chariots. Three of them, including the chariot with the sixth-tier mage, peeled off of their course to follow him, while the last two continued on toward the camp.
The drivers of the three chariots whipped their horses into a full gallop, hurtling after Leon at a speed that even he, with his fifth-tier power and lightning magic, couldn’t match. Still, he had a long enough of a lead that he had the luxury to calm his panic and think. As he ran, he summoned a few of the last white-fire arrow-spells he had left and unlimbered his bow from over his shoulder. He then nocked one of these arrows, spun around, and fired at the leading chariot.
Talfar chariots could turn on a dime, but the speed with which Leon’s arrow flew through the air made avoiding it impossible. The driver jerked the reins of the horses, but the arrow still hit the side of the sixth-tier mage’s chariot and burst into white fire.
These were light chariots, built for speed and maneuverability, and as such lacked the armor of heavier chariots and only carried three warriors instead of the normal four. Leon’s white-fire burned right through the chariot’s frame, and the force of the horses continuing to pull on it split the vehicle in half.
All three of the warriors in the chariot leaped into the air, with the driver landing on the ground and the other two landing with practiced grace on the two horses, now free of pulling the vehicle. Losing chariots, especially the less armored variety, wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, and as such the horses pulling chariots were also fitted with saddles so that if any of the chariot team survived, they could keep fighting on as more conventional cavalry.
Seeing how his arrow failed to stop his pursuers despite destroying a chariot, Leon swore under his breath and kept on running east, turning slightly north as he went. He could see the tree line of the forest in the distance with the brightening morning sky, and if he could just reach it, he was sure he could lose his pursuers within.
But those Talfar warriors behind him weren’t going to make such a thing easy.
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