Chapter 256 - Pursuing the Fleeing Rat

Leon hit the tree line and kept on running as fast as his lightning-enhanced legs could carry him.  With what he assumed was a sixth-tier mage hot on his heels and his invisibility ring not holding magic as it should, panic slithered into his mind and muddied his thoughts.

However, as the tall grass of the plain gave way to trees and the underbrush of the forest that was just a few miles north-west of the Talfar camp, his mind began to clear, and he felt himself relax a bit.  The forest was his environment, and nothing could calm him like the sight of trees and enough leaves to block his view of the sky.

But he didn’t let this small comfort distract him, the mage pursuing him wasn’t slowing down just because the terrain became a little more rugged.  Still, Leon knew exactly where to put his foot for every rapid step, and the Talfar warrior wasn’t nearly so comfortable in forested terrain and neither did his magic give him the same speed that Leon’s lightning gave to him, leading to Leon starting to pick up some distance despite the difference in raw magical strength.

The Talfar warrior clearly didn’t appreciate this, and Leon was forced to dodge blasts of fire so searingly hot that he could feel them as they passed by him even through his Magmic Steel armor.  But Leon managed to keep his balance even as the trees he passed fell behind him, scorched and blackened, and the foliage that he deftly avoided was ripped apart and incinerated, and the lead he had grew with every step.

The landscape grew more rugged as Leon turned north.  The forest didn’t extend that far into the Talfar plains to the east, but to the west and north it stretched out in a great green carpet over the eastern edge of the Border Mountains.  Leon recognized the lack of experience in traveling through heavy forests in the warrior pursuing him, so he deliberately made the choice to run into the mountains.  His confidence grew with every missed burst of magic he endured and every broken hill he traversed; he’d almost lost sight of the warrior mere minutes after entering the forest.

But he could still see him with his magic senses, and he knew that that warrior could still see him, so he didn’t slow down or grow complacent.  He just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  He was going to escape; he could feel it in his bones.

But then, he heard the faint sound of rushing water, which only grew louder the further he ran.  The ground he was on had a steady incline, leading up into the mountains.  A few miles later, the land became little more than a series of sharp hills and valleys that Leon skillfully navigated, sometimes leaping across small chasms or from tree to tree as needed.  However, he never got out of range of the Talfar warrior’s magic senses, despite continuing to gain ground.

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‘I’m losing him!’ Emrys thought with desperation as the Legion soldier avoided every tree root and inconvenient bush that slowed him down.

The warrior could only curse his own foolishness; he’d lowered his guard when the rat had been knocked down, and he’d assumed that the Legion knight would surrender himself for ransom in the face of such overwhelming force against him.  Instead, the black-armored rat had killed a fifth-tier mage and whipped out a lightning spell that killed the three lower-tiered warriors and scared off everyone’s horses.

Now, Emrys found himself chasing the rat through a wild forest with serious lightning burns on his arms and chest, and probably fractured ribs if the pain he felt was any indication. 

‘Aaron had better be getting those reinforcements…’ Emrys thought with rising anger as he pulled his long red hair out of a small tree branch that it had gotten caught on.  If his last fifth-tier warrior managed to get a significant amount of reinforcements, then he could simply sweep through the forest if the rat managed to get away.  If his reinforcements were deployed, though, then Emrys could see the real possibility that the rat would get away.

There was a strong chance that this was the man that had destroyed their supplies, and Emrys was determined to drag him back to the Marshal and the Prince for punishment—assuming he managed to catch him.  Any thought of ransoming the knight back to the Legion, as was custom for higher-tiered mages, had long since left Emrys’ mind, and the longer the chase continued, the more the warrior didn’t even want to do that much.  Simply killing this armored rat was sounding better and better with every step he took in the rough forest.

And then, he saw through his magic senses that the rat had stopped running.  When Emrys saw what had stymied the other mage, a wide, predatory smile appeared on his chiseled face, and his dark green eyes narrowed in anticipation of catching his prey.

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Leon stood before a massive chasm, carved out of the mountains and hills by the rapidly-flowing river almost a thousand feet below.  The other side was more than eighty feet away, far enough that Leon didn’t want to risk jumping if he could avoid it, as the chasm was high enough that it was dangerous even for a fifth-tier mage to fall into, and the river was moving so fast that it was completely white from foam.

As he stood there, trying to quickly think of something to do—the nearby trees weren’t tall enough to use as a bridge, he noticed—he could see the Talfar warrior getting closer.  In fact, the warrior seemed to be slowing down, as if he was confident that Leon had nowhere to go.

To Leon’s left were the Border Mountains—more specifically, there was a several-hundred-foot-tall sheer cliff about five hundred feet to his left made of smooth hexagonal trap rock that he wasn’t going to be able to climb.  To his right was the slope of a hill that would take him into more dense forest, but the Talfar warrior had reached the base of that hill behind him, and Leon would be easily cut off if he went that way based on how he’d have to run due to the south-ward curve of the chasm.

It seemed like there really was no way for him to get out of this, apart from facing the sixth-tier warrior in direct battle, and Leon didn’t think he would be able to match the warrior, even with his enchanted armor.

“Hahhhh,” the Talfar warrior sighed as he approached Leon.  “You have nowhere to go, now, Legion Rat.  If you surrender now, then I might be merciful, but if you don’t-

Before the warrior could complete his threat, Leon took one look at him, then jumped over the edge of the cliff.  There was no hesitation.  It came down to whether or not Leon was willing to be captured by a sixth-tier mage he didn’t think he could defeat in a straight fight or if he wanted to risk serious injury and possible death at the bottom of the chasm.

And he chose the latter.

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Emrys could only watch in shock as the black-armored Legion soldier went over the edge.  He rushed forward, his pale hands instinctively reaching for the man to catch him and haul him back up, but his fingers touched nothing but air.  The soldier plummeted from the cliff with his arms wide-open, accepting what was about to come and throwing his choice back in Emrys’ face.

The rat vanished into the mist and foam of the river far below and did not resurface.  Emrys didn’t hear any splashes over the roaring rapids, but he also didn’t hear anything that might suggest the rat was smashed against the rocks that jutted up out of the river here and there.

Emrys stood there at the top of the cliff for several minutes, waiting for the Legion rat to show himself, and he eventually began to run down the length of the chasm looking for any sign of the young knight.

“IF YOU SURVIVED, BASTARD, THEN I’LL FIND YOU!!!” Emrys bellowed into the chasm.  His voice was lost in the cacophony of swiftly flowing water, but if the rat was alive, Emrys wanted him to know of his impending capture.  “THOUSANDS WILL STARVE BECAUSE OF YOU!  YOU WILL PAY FOR THAT MUCH, AT LEAST!”

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The sun beat down on Emrys like a judgmental parent-in-law, as if it were criticizing him for his failure to find the rat.  The Talfar warrior had scoured the chasm, looking for any sign that the Legion knight had survived, or even just trying to find his body, but all to no avail.

It wasn’t until the reinforcements from the Talfar camp finally entered the range of his magic senses, which he’d been using continuously for hours, leaving him exhausted, that he turned away from his search.

“Emrys!” the leader of the approaching team of Talfar warriors shouted out in greeting as he approached the Warrior-Chief.

“Lorcan!” Emrys responded, recognizing the fifth-tier warrior’s curly brown hair, round baby face, and freckled cheeks.

The two men rushed forward and clasped each other’s wrists.

“It’s about damned time we found you!” Lorcan said, his joyous smile shining almost as bright as the sun.  “We’ve been looking for you for almost four hours, now!”

“Has it been that long?” Emrys asked, glancing up at the sky and practically reeling in surprise at how high the sun had climbed.

“Indeed, it has, my friend,” Lorcan replied.  “Once Aaron reported that you were chasing a Legion knight, His Lordship sent out about two thousand warriors to aid you in your search.”

Emrys smiled.  This meant that Arthwyn was giving him the job of finding the Legion knight, which soothed Emrys’ mind a little, as he hated it when he was forced to leave a job partially done.  But he was still surprised at the force that Arthwyn sent.

When Emrys asked Lorcan about it, the other man explained, “The army pulled back from the walls by order of the Prince, so there’s plenty of warriors to spare.  His Highness wanted to make sure that our supply situation was figured out before seizing the Horns.  This is now being prioritized, we can’t have a strong Legion knight behind our lines who’s already demonstrated a willingness and capability to disrupt our lines of supply, can we?  Now, what’s the situation out here?”

Emrys quickly filled Lorcan in on what had happened since he and Aaron had separated, and Lorcan sent out five of his twelve subordinates to relay that information to the other teams.

“We’ll find the bastard,” Lorcan promised Emrys.  “We’ve too many people out here to miss him!  He’s not getting away!”

“Good,” Emrys replied.  “By the way, how bad is it back in the camp?”

“Eh, it could be worse,” Lorcan said.  “Not by much, but it could have been, potentially, worse, if this guy had been working with anyone of similar means.  As it is, the peasants won’t be eating anything more than a bit of porridge for the foreseeable future, and most of the warriors aren’t better off.  We’ve got little more than bread and water in our future for a while!”  Lorcan chuckled loudly at their situation, but none of the other warriors looked particularly pleased.

“And the horses?” Emrys asked.

“Oh, they’ll be eating like kings compared to us,” Lorcan said, punctuating his sentence with thunderous guffaws.  “Most of the feed was stored at the stables, not at the central storage point, so the horses got plenty of food!”

“Hey maybe keep it down a little,” Emrys chided.  “This guy might still be alive, and I’d like to sneak up on him, if possible.”

“He fell from all the way up here,” Lorcan exclaimed.  “Even for a fifth-tier mage, surviving a fall like that would be a tall order.  Even more so finding his way back up!”

“He’s also an expert archer, he hit my chariot with an arrow from farther away than any Legion bow should’ve been able to,” Emrys dourly explained.

“Huh.  Well, I’ll be careful, then,” Lorcan responded as he leaned out over the cliff edge to get a better look at the river below.

Emrys half-expected his friend to get hit by an arrow just for tempting fate like that, but a moment later, Lorcan stepped back from the edge and laughed again.

“No way that guy’s still alive!” the good-natured warrior loudly proclaimed.  “But I guess we still have to find his corpse, then.”

Emrys sighed and glanced at the river.  It wasn’t a particularly long river, ending in a fairly large lake about fifty miles away.  However, the forest ended about six or seven miles to the east, where the ground leveled out and gave way to flat plains.  Cavalry could keep an eye on that area and ensure that the rat couldn’t slip out that way—assuming he survived, which Emrys was.

“There you go making assumptions,” Emrys growled.  “We’re doing this right.  We’ll sweep through the forest, and if the rat lived, we’ll find him.  If not, then we’ll rejoin the army back at camp.  Keep your eyes open.”

“Got it,” Lorcan replied.  “But for now, you should probably be back at the base camp we set up to coordinate the search.”

Emrys scowled, but he understood his duty was to command, not necessarily to lead.

“Be careful, my friend,” Emrys said to Lorcan, clasping the other man’s wrist again.

“I always am when it counts,” Lorcan responded, flashing for the first time a dangerous look and emitting a tremendous amount of killing intent as he glanced back at the chasm.

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Thank you to my Seventh-tier patrons:

Efflorescence – Kyle J Smith – Max Strand – SpAzzo – Caleb – Lawrence D Jones – Virgo Morrison

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Chapter 257 - Assessing Losses

Chapter 255 - Talfar Blinks First