Bonus chapter 2 of 3
Leon gasped for air as he surfaced in a small pond in the middle of a forest on the north side of the chasm. Naiad giggled beside him as he pulled himself out of the water and onto dry ground. There had been no places for him to breathe between the lake and the exit pond, a distance that took Leon almost fifteen minutes to swim, so he was more than a little out of breath.
When Leon’s breathing steadied, he turned around and locked eyes with Naiad, who was still watching him. Once she’d entered the lake, the lower half of her body had disappeared into the water, putting on the same eerie display that all the other nymphs did.
Still, Leon had to admit that even after what she had done to him, she was extremely beautiful. Her bronze skin glistened in the sunlight, her blue eyes glittered with coy playfulness, and her… Leon had to cut himself off there, any more thoughts about her looks and his anger and antipathy toward her may lessen.
[Remember, boy,] she said as they stared at each other, [you owe me at least one child. Your power is within me now, as mine is within you. You won’t get away from me, this pact will be completed one day.]
“I understand,” Leon growled.
Naiad giggled again, then dove back under the surface of the pond, the rest of her body disappearing before she even entered the tunnel that led back to the lake.
Her giggle sent a shiver down Leon’s spine, and he immediately turned around and left, trying to put this entire experience behind him. He didn’t know how long he had until that pact caught up with him, but he knew he wasn’t going to get away from her so easily. He had a vague notion of where she was in relation to him, and he had the impression that with her much higher power level, her idea of his location was much more refined. And with that much higher power level, she’d have little trouble getting to him, even if he were far away from any major bodies of water or protected by hordes of loyal warriors.
If he were a more conceited person, he might feel honored that such a powerful being found him worthy of being her mate, but the whole thing just left him feeling gross. Besides, it was one thing if she actually wanted him, but it was his blood Naiad was after, not him as a person. He didn’t consider himself worthy of that attention on his own merits, it was all because of what he had inherited from the Thunderbird.
He had a lot of trouble getting this situation out of his head, to say the least; this, along with the attention of the vampire Bran, he was starting to get more than a little insecure about his own accomplishments and how much was actually the result of his own actions and how much due to his blood.
But this wasn’t the time for such thoughts. He forced them out of his head, but in their place came thoughts about how much trouble he’d be in if he made it back to the Horns. It occurred to him that he had no idea how long he’d been gone, a day at most if he were lucky, but regardless, he knew that Trajan would be indescribably furious.
‘Ahhh, I really fucked up,’ Leon thought to himself as he ascended a nearby hill and began to climb the tallest tree he could find. When he reached the top, he could see the chasm about six miles to the south. ‘At least she didn’t lie about bringing me back this far,’ he cynically thought.
He stayed up in that tree for about an hour trying to clear his head before he started to make his way back down. It was close to sunset and he needed to find a place to rest, so he started meandering his way south, keeping a paranoid eye on his surroundings—a forest with river nymphs was putting him back into old habits—and managed to snag himself a rabbit for dinner with a well-placed arrow to the neck.
A few minutes after, he built a small fire in a clearing to cook his meal, then made a bed of leaves so he wouldn’t have to sleep in the dirt. Before he fell asleep, though, he had one last piece of business to take care of; the magic power he channeled into his invisibility ring was leaking out, preventing enough power from getting to the emerald and thus preventing the invisibility enchantment from activating.
Leon slipped the ring off his finger and gave it a thorough examination. He quickly discovered the problem: a long, deep crack on the opposite side of the gold band from the emerald. Leon couldn’t help but sigh in dismay at the damage—if it were just a problem with the enchantment he’d be able to fix it, but the ring itself was damaged and that was beyond his current ability to repair.
Still, he had a copy of the enchantment in the documents within his soul realm, so if he made it back to Ariminium, he was confident that he could find a smith to fix the ring, and then he’d be able to fix the disrupted enchantment—or, failing that, find an enchanter or artificier working for Heaven’s Eye to do so. But returning to the Horns would be a significantly more difficult task without invisibility.
Leon took a few minutes and pulled the ring into his soul realm. If it wasn’t going to be useful, then he’d rather keep it as safe as possible for the time being. While he was awake, though, he decided to add to his collection of depleted spells. He retrieved a quill, ink, and spell paper, and got to work.
When he was done, he had one more of his Thunderblast spells and about a dozen more white-fire spells, but the sun had set and his eyes had grown heavy, so he put his enchanting supplies away and lay back on his makeshift bed. He didn’t fall asleep right away, and his thoughts quickly became occupied with weighing his options for moving forward.
His best bet, he thought, was to continue going south. He’d never be able to make it through the plains to the west, and while there was the possibility that he could potentially find a safe way through the mountains to the east, he figured that it would take weeks if not longer, and he didn’t believe he had that kind of time.
‘No, I need to get back as soon as I can, and that means going south,’ Leon thought. ‘I’ll have to be careful to avoid the inevitable Talfar patrols, and I have to find a way to cross the chasm, but south is still the only option I have to make it back in anything resembling a timely fashion…’
With his mind made up, or rather, with his previous decision confirmed, his thoughts turned to other things. He thought about Trajan and how angry the Prince likely was with him. He thought about Alix and the look of anguish she had at being left behind yet again. He thought about Charles, Henry, and Alain, and hoped that his friends were doing well—he knew that their Legion had been assigned to the main walls between the Horns and so they had likely seen some combat.
Finally, Leon thought about Anzu. When he’d left on his admittedly stupid and reckless mission, Anzu had been badly injured by a Talfar trebuchet. Leon hoped with everything he had that his little griffin was all right.
Before he could think of anything else, Leon’s eyes closed, and he fell into a deep, mentally exhausted sleep that he didn’t wake from until late the next morning when the sounds of an approaching Talfar squad resounded through his clearing.
Leon sprang to his feet as soon as his brain processed what those sounds were. He only had a few minutes to collect himself and he quickly came up with a plan. He retrieved his freshly-inscribed Thunderblast spell and hurriedly buried it in the ashes of his fire, then scrambled up a tree. He barely managed to get himself hidden when the first Talfar warrior stumbled into his camp…
Leon jumped down from his hidden perch and surveyed the result of his lightning spell. Nine Talfar warriors were dead, and the last one was so mangled that he wasn’t going to live long; Leon put an arrow into his chest and ended the man’s suffering. The rest of the warriors were some combination of burned, dismembered, and vaporized from the Thunderblast spell.
After his complete helplessness before Naiad, Leon felt immense satisfaction in this result, but he didn’t stay long. The lightning spell had been extremely loud and Leon didn’t want to get caught between any other squads that might be out in the forest converging on his location, so with a victorious smile on his face, Leon vanished into the forest.
He was a little concerned that there were warriors in the forest north of the chasm at all; he didn’t think the hassle of getting across would be worth it.
‘I guess they’re more determined to find me than I thought…’ Leon thought with a slight frown.
But on the other hand, the mere fact that there were warriors around at all meant that there was a way across the chasm he could use. He could approach the chasm and follow it until he found that way across. Leon turned south and moved through the forest like a ghost. He left no tracks and made little noise. He was essentially invisible even without his ring; only a high-tiered mage using their magic senses would be able to find him, but he restrained his aura to minimize this possibility, as while they were a powerful tool, magic senses weren’t perfect.
As he was on his way, though, he heard the sounds of another squad of Talfar warriors clumsily hacking and ripping their way through the forest, and he stopped for a moment. His heart still beat with anger and frustration from his experience with Naiad, and here he had another perfect opportunity to vent a little.
Leon quickly climbed up into the dense canopy of dark green leaves and stared to the east, where the noises were coming from. From his vantage point, he could see ten warriors, with the strongest mage among them being a single fifth-tier mage.
‘I can take that many… hopefully…’ Leon confidently thought as he unlimbered his bow.
The squad was about two hundred feet away and they weren’t even trying to be stealthy. They loudly swore as they stumbled their way past roots, vines, and bushes. Leon couldn’t make out what they were saying, but he didn’t much care, anyway. He simply conjured a handful of white-fire arrows from his soul realm and got down to business.
With practiced precision, Leon had fired three arrows before the warriors even knew they were under attack. These arrows accurately hit three warriors in the gaps of their lack-luster armor, and a moment later, incinerated them. Two more arrows were fired before the other warriors could even process what had just happened. In a matter of seconds, half of the squad had been rendered into ash and white-hot fire, including their only mage capable of elemental magic.
The rest of the warriors scrambled for cover, but Leon took care of them in short order with a few more well-placed arrows, but he refrained from using his white-fire spells on them, as in those spells he was running low. Instead, the two warriors he didn’t instantly kill with his bow he finished off with his sword.
Once the job was done and Leon was left alone with the bodies of the warriors, he breathed a heavy sigh and looked around at each one of them. He enjoyed fighting a great deal, and he enjoyed hunting even more, but taking life wasn’t something he particularly wanted to celebrate. Still, he found the hunt exhilarating, and he couldn’t deny the catharsis that killing his enemies brought him.
He hardened his nerve and moved on. He didn’t hate killing, after all, he simply found it fairly unremarkable. The warriors of Talfar were his enemy, and that was that.
Emrys stared down at what little remained of Lorcan’s body. The Thunderblast spell had vaporized most of his flesh, leaving a charred skeleton whose bones had been almost entirely fused together. Lorcan was only identifiable by his boots and the few scraps of armor that remained.
With rising fury, Emrys glanced around at his friend’s dead squad, who were scattered in pieces around the clearing.
‘He’s alive,’ Emrys thought with a level of hatred that he never thought himself capable of. ‘I knew he survived that fall, and now he’s killing more of my friends!’
The hypocrisy of being a member of the army that started this war was completely lost on him; he hadn’t made the decision to invade, and so he felt his rage justified when his friends were killed and his countrymen starved because of the rat.
This wasn’t the first time Emrys had lost friends in battle; in fact, if Emrys were to count the number of friends he’d lost on his hands, he’d very quickly run out of fingers, and he wouldn’t even be close to adding Lorcan.
So, while Emrys was enraged, he maintained his composure.
“Look for tracks, anything that might tell us where this little rat fucker went!” he ordered the nine warriors at his back. Said warriors spread out around the clearing while Emrys respectfully arranged the bodies of Lorcan’s squad in a pile and incinerated what was left.
Generally speaking, most in the Talfar Kingdom were buried, but cremations were perfectly acceptable in times of war when bringing bodies home wasn’t practical. In this case, Emrys had to admit to himself that bringing Lorcan’s squad back to the Talfar camp was probably easy enough, but he didn’t want to waste time when his quarry was still at large.
Once he was done, he looked to his squad, but none had found any evidence of where the rat had scurried off to.
Emrys scowled, then led his squad onward. ‘The old-fashioned way, then,’ he thought as he projected his magic senses out into the forest. It might alert his prey, but he was determined to find and gut the rat that had already killed several of his friends.
‘And I will find you, I swear it!’ Emrys vowed as he led his warriors deeper into the forest.
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