Arthwyn stared at the walls with an ugly expression. Half of his siege towers were destroyed, but his forces had managed to seize about half of the towers on the first wall. Still, they were taking heavy casualties, and the Talfar army wasn’t advancing as fast as he would’ve liked. But progress was progress, and his remaining trebuchets were hammering the Bull’s Horns as fast as they could.
It was a bloody, grinding affair, but if things kept going at the rate they were, he’d be able to take all three walls by sunset.
Just as Arthwyn was making this optimistic estimate, however, the messenger from the Talfar camp arrived and swiftly reported, “Your Lordship, the main storage tent at the encampment has been destroyed!”
“What?!” Arthwyn almost shrieked. Most of their supplies were stored there, and if it was lost then continuing to press forward would be a fool’s errand.
Having overheard this, Owain hurriedly drove over in his chariot and said, “Tell me everything!”
“Yes, Your Highness!” the messenger said, quickly relaying everything that he knew about Leon’s attack on the camp.
“We must return!” Owain said, his handsome face twisting in panic. “If we’ve lost our supplies, then we need to retreat!”
“Your Highness won’t be able to claim the throne if the army retreats when we’re winning the battle,” Arthwyn said through gritted teeth. “We can win this; we just need to hold on.”
“‘Hold on?’ We’re being bled dry out there,” Owain growled, refraining from shouting at his Marshal to keep the watching charioteers and cataphracts from becoming concerned.
“The army will survive, and when we seize victory in this battle, Your Highness will have all the prestige you need to take your throne,” the Marshal replied, to the dismay of his fellow high-ranked warriors in the nearby chariots. They all had significant amounts of property in the camp, and if it were being attacked, then their first choice would be to retreat to protect their belongings.
Owain glared at Arthwyn, and the Marshal glared right back. It was clear to the Prince that his Marshal had no intention of ending this fight. He was keeping himself calm, but there was a hint of madness in his deep blue eyes that finally gave Owain enough concerns to say to his hornsman, “Signal the retreat.”
The Warrior-Chiefs were proud people, and none of them wanted to abandon the battle. Still, they had to protect their property first and foremost, so the Prince’s words brought them comfort.
“Your Highness is nothing more than a-“ Arthwyn began, but he quickly bit his tongue. If push came to shove, Bran’s forces would likely side with Owain over him, as would most of the peasants. Arthwyn wasn’t even confident enough in his own warriors to think that they would choose him over their Prince.
“What was that?” Owain asked with a dangerous glint in his cool green eyes.
Arthwyn took a deep breath, took one more look at the Bull’s Horns, and said, “Nothing, Your Highness… Nothing…”
“I thought so,” Owain said as he struggled not to split his face open with a wide and undignified smile of dominance.
The Prince’s horn was blown and the signal to retreat was given. There was still a great deal of fighting left before Talfar’s warriors would be out of the woods, but for the time being, they began to fall back.
Arthwyn, meanwhile, glared at the walls, his stoic mask lowered to reveal his hate for all to see.
‘This is only a temporary reprieve Trajan,’ Arthwyn furiously thought. ‘Your head is mine! Once you’re dead, Aeronwen’s soul can be put to rest…’
The situation in the gatehouse of the first wall was without a doubt the best place to be, from the perspective of a Legion soldier. The siege tower that Leon had burned largely meant that the gatehouse was impervious to further direct attack, save for the occasional trebuchet shot or intrepid Talfar warrior with a ladder. Both towers on either side of the gatehouse kept those Talfar warriors that had managed to get onto the wall from approaching the gatehouse, as well.
From within, Alix felt like she had entered into something of a trance. The sheer amount of dead Legion soldiers around her had left her infuriated, and Leon abandoning her and the rest of the Legion to go off on a foolish suicide mission did nothing to improve her mood.
The only way she could vent her feelings was with her bow, and fortunately, she had many targets. She fired arrow after arrow through the arrow loops of the gatehouse, and every single time her arrows found their mark. Magic surged through her body as she automatically nocked and drew another arrow after every shot, filling her with energy, while her anger boiled her blood, filling her with killing intent.
Anzu was right next to her, a healing spell wrapped around his broken leg. He was whimpering in pain from both his broken wing and Leon’s absence, huddled down at her feet as far away from everyone else as he could get.
‘If he keeps leaving, Anzu might just imprint on me instead of him!’ Alix thought with renewed anger as she reached for another bundle of arrows, her gaze passing over Anzu at the same time.
But as angry as she was at Leon right now, she was far more infuriated by the actions of the Talfar warriors. From her position near the top of the gatehouse, she could see the enemy warriors forcing terrified peasants in front of them so that they would take the arrows meant for the warriors. She could see Legion soldiers dying in droves, not to mention the dozens of dead Legion soldiers in the back of the room she was in—the Tribune in charge couldn’t spare the soldiers to transport the bodies of those killed on the roof away, so they were simply placed along the back wall and in the corners where the remaining soldiers wouldn’t trip over them.
Alix took aim again, another arrow nocked in her bow. When she fired, her anger was stoked again when the warrior she had aimed at grabbed a nearby peasant and used him to block. Alix’s arrow pierced the man’s throat, killing him almost instantly.
‘Fucking barbarians!’ she thought in disgust, finally beginning to understand the true depths of hatred that her former comrades at Fort 127 used to have for the Valemen. It wasn’t a perfect comparison, as Alix didn’t think the Valemen ever used human shields, but it was still something she was starting to relate to.
And then, from the front of the Talfar cavalry, a long and deep horn blast boomed over the battlefield, and the Talfar warriors began to slowly back away from the walls.
“HAHA!” the Tribune shouted in joy. “They fucking blinked! That’s what you fucking get for coming here and fucking with the Legion!”
The other soldiers in the gatehouse joined the Tribune in shouting in joy as they continued shooting their arrows at the slowly retreating warriors. Alix made sure to get in a few last shots as well.
But she had something else she needed to take care of. She ignored the rest of the soldiers as they reveled in the enemy’s retreat, and whispered to Anzu, “Ready to move, little guy?”
Anzu looked up at her with shiny eyes that could melt a stone heart. Alix had to fight not to burst into tears at the griffin’s mournful expression.
“He’ll be back, no need to worry about that,” she whispered, reaching out and patting Anzu on the head. Surprising her, the griffin allowed this for a few seconds before staggering to his paws. “Let’s get back to the Prince,” Alix continued. “His Highness needs to know what’s happened with Leon.”
The Talfar chariots and horsemen were bearing down on Leon. There were barely five hundred feet between them, now, and Leon was still more than a mile from the edge of the forest.
His mind raced, his heart pounded against his chest, and his lightning magic coursed through his body. Leon didn’t think he’d ever run so fast before in his life, but he still knew that he wasn’t going to make it.
With a snap decision, Leon turned and fired two more white-fire arrows, destroying the last two chariots that were pursuing him. Unfortunately, the riders pulled the same maneuver that their leader had, and the two warriors in each jumped and landed on their horses, while the drivers stayed with the wrecks.
This reduced Leon’s enemies by two, but it also drastically increased the maneuverability of the remaining six and cost him valuable time. He still ran as fast as he could for the tree line, but the Talfar warriors were rapidly catching up.
Pivoting again, Leon swiftly fired three more arrows, but these didn’t have white-fire spells attached. Rather, they hit the ground in front of the horses and created excruciatingly bright flashes of light, startling the horses and almost throwing the riders from their saddles.
But this small advantage was quickly negated when Leon felt the ground beneath him shift, and he instinctively jumped just in time to avoid a rock spike bursting from the ground. Three of the warriors chasing him were strong enough to use elemental magic; Leon kept running, he couldn’t fight that kind of force head-on.
Finally, less than half a mile from the tree line, the horsemen closed to within a hundred feet of Leon.
“Surrender now and you won’t be killed!” the sixth-tier leader of the warriors shouted.
Leon ignored him and kept running.
“Typical Legion bastard!” shouted one of the fifth-tier warriors as he called upon his magic power. The air around his fist began to swirl, and he punched toward Leon’s back, sending a spiraling cyclone of wind toward the young knight.
This wind hit Leon in the back, knocking him to the ground and allowing the warriors to catch up and surround him.
“Drop your fuckin’ weapons,” the other fifth-tier warrior snarled as all six of them pointed their swords at Leon.
“Brian, restrain him,” the sixth-tier lead warrior ordered, glancing at the wind mage.
Brian dismounted his horse and approached Leon, taking a length of enchanted rope out of his soul realm as he did. However, before he could start, Leon rolled out of his way and slashed upward with his sword, cutting right across Brian’s chest and stomach with a flash of lightning, scorching most of his organs.
Moving faster than the other warriors could react, Leon shot to his feet and threw another flare spell into the air. When the flare went off, blinding the warriors for a short time, Leon activated his ring and started fading from view. Unfortunately, the lead warrior wasn’t going to lose Leon over a small thing like blindness, and he extended his hand and let off a gout of flame that reached Leon in an instant and washed over his armor.
Leon’s invisibility was disrupted as soon as the first ember hit his armor before he’d even finished fading from view. The ring chimed like a loud bell, a sound that Leon had never heard it make before, but he didn’t have the luxury of investigating what it meant. He had to keep moving, so he dug into his almost depleted stash of spells once more and activated his last Thunderblast spell, the last copy of the spell he’d acquired from his family’s enchantment records.
The spell detonated a moment later, hurling Leon toward the forest and doing what the flare spells hadn’t: spook the horses. The sound of the blast ruptured the beasts’ eardrums, and in a panic, the horses reared and threw the five remaining warriors down off their backs. They took off running back toward the camp, leaving the warriors alone on the ground.
Leon rolled to his feet as he hit the dirt, springing up and sprinting for the tree line. As he ran, he attempted to activate his ring again, but every ounce of magic he funneled into the golden band promptly dissipated, indicating a broken enchantment. Leon realized with horror that being violently disrupted halfway through turning invisible had broken his ring!
“After him!” the lead warrior bellowed as he struggled to his feet from the unexpected dismount and stunning blast of lightning. “No need to take him prisoner now! Kill him!”
Unfortunately for him, only the other fifth-tier mage rose with him, the other four warriors that had been a part of their team were dead—one by Leon’s sword, and the other three from the lightning spell.
“Go get reinforcements from the camp! We’re not letting him get away!” the lead warrior shouted as he took off after Leon, with the other warrior turning and sprinting back toward the camp.
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