As the siege towers drew closer to the outer-most wall, the Legion trebuchets redirected their fire from the hordes of Talfar soldiers to these siege engines. As one round from a trebuchet exploded over one of the siege towers, though, it became clear that the wood and iron they were made of had been enchanted to increase their chances of actually reaching the wall.
This had its limits, of course, as the siege tower closest to the river was bombarded by the fleet and disintegrated under the combined blasts of the navy’s Flame Lances. The Legion kept firing, trying to bring down more of the towers as they slowly lumbered forward.
There wasn’t much Leon or the soldiers on the walls could do in this case. They could only keep shooting arrows down at the Talfar soldiers closer to the wall and hope they weren’t around when Talfar’s trebuchets responded.
Leon kept his eyes open for any higher-tiered Talfar warriors he could find. Every time he saw one, the image of Bran appeared in his mind, along with his father, Elise, and Valeria. His already exceptionally strong killing intent soared to new heights, but it was lost in the titanic aura of thousands of mages killing each other. Still, his arrows rarely missed, and many third and fourth-tier Talfar mages disappeared in white-hot fire. He even managed to shoot four fifth-tier mages.
And yet, it was difficult to feel like he was making a difference when there were just so many Talfar soldiers assaulting the walls. No matter where he looked, there were no shortage of targets.
“DOWN!” the Tribune roared as another Talfar trebuchet hit the gatehouse with a wind spell that created a fiery cyclone on the roof, catching fourteen Legion soldiers within. The heat baked the rest of the soldiers, but the enchantments in the gatehouse quickly kicked in and suppressed the fire, leaving only the fourteen caught in the fire with any injuries.
But there wasn’t any time for anyone, save for a few medics and healers, to pay attention to the injured, as the siege tower bound for the gatehouse had just closed to within two hundred feet.
“BRING THAT FUCKING THING DOWN!” the Tribune shouted, pointing at the siege tower.
All of the soldiers redirected their arrow fire toward the levies moving the tower, but it continued to creep inexorably closer, despite the trail of corpses left in its wake. Leon even fired a few of his white-fire arrows at the tower, but to no effect.
“Shit…” Leon heard the Tribune mutter. “That tower’s too close for the trebuchets to do anything about! Prepare for melee-combat!”
Leon grimaced, fired one more arrow, then switched over to his sword. He then called upon his lightning magic and waited. Behind him, a shield wall began to form, while the Tribune took a position at his side. The two knights exchanged a nod of solidarity as the siege tower closed to within one hundred feet.
As they watched and waited for the siege tower to arrive, several dozen knights and their men-at-arms appeared from the gatehouse’s lower floors and reinforced the shield wall. All down the wall, at every point where a siege tower was about to arrive, similar scenes were playing out, with knights that were just waiting for the walls to be breached rushing in to aid their Legion comrades.
Finally, the siege tower came to a halt about fifteen feet from the gatehouse. It cleared the top of the gatehouse by about that much as well. The drawbridge attached to the top was made entirely of some kind of steel, though Leon wasn’t able to tell what kind. Something specially enchanted to make it fire-resistant and probably to lighten it somewhat, he guessed.
The bridge suddenly fell, hitting the top of the battlements with a gigantic crash, and a dozen Talfar warriors moved to spill out onto the gatehouse roof.
This was the moment Leon and the Tribune were waiting for. Before these Talfar warriors could press too far forward, they were met with an exploding bolt of lightning and a powerful gust of wind that killed four, injured three, and hurled the remaining five off the bridge to fall to the ground sixty feet below.
And then a gout of flame burst from the tower and rocketed toward Leon and the Tribune, but Leon raised his hand and the incoming fire halted like it hit an invisible wall.
“Huh?” said a confused voice from the other side of the bridge. “Ahh, so you’re a fire mage, as well! What a fantastic twist!”
A man then jumped out of the siege tower and landed in the center of the bridge. He was youthful in appearance, with jet-black hair, lake-blue eyes, and a soft and round face that looked like it had never known a time when it wasn’t smiling. He wore armor made of interlocked silver plates, larger than the scales in more conventional scaled armor, but giving off a similar aesthetic. These plates were etched with intricate designs that flowed and curved around and through themselves, while his larger shoulder plates were covered in some kind of black fur. Finally, around his left bicep was a band with a dozen bright blue feathers attached that flared out in an ostentatious display.
“I have the honor of being Tuathalan, a Warrior-Captain in the s-“ the man began, but he was interrupted when Leon ignored him, took a step forward, and stabbed forward with his sword, firing a bolt of golden lightning so bright it appeared almost white out of the blade toward Tuathalan.
The Warrior-Captain yelped and tried to side-step out of the way, but the bolt grazed his right side, ravaging his right arm and shoulder with arcs of lightning. Tuathalan’s armor blocked much of the damage, but enough lightning got through the enchantments that the Warrior-Captain couldn’t help but scream in pain as his flesh burned beneath the armor.
The bolt exploded in the back of the siege tower, killing three more Talfar soldiers, but Tuathalan didn’t care about that, all that was on his mind was the superficial damage that Leon had just done. He glanced up to scream and rage at the young knight, but Leon hadn’t just waited around for the Warrior-Chief to recover, he’d leaped into the air and hit the bridge with an enormous chunk of his available lightning magic coursing through his legs. The bridge lit up as innumerable arcs of lightning burst out of Leon’s legs and surged through the siege tower.
There were a couple hundred Talfar soldiers within the tower at the time, and about a quarter of them were killed instantly as soon as the lightning rushed into them through the tower. None of the rest walked away without injury.
“You honor-less bastard!” Tuathalan roared as he lunged at Leon with his own sword.
Leon brought his own sword up to block and deflect the Warrior-Captain’s weapon, then swiped at the man with his off-hand. Tuathalan didn’t see what Leon did, and kept pressing forward, trying to use brute force to knock Leon off the bridge. However, Leon quickly fell back away from the Warrior-Captain, to Tuathalan’s confusion. About two seconds later, he found out why when he felt a searing pain in his right side; Leon had planted a white-fire spell on the Warrior-Captain’s armor while he had been distracted with his attack.
There was a brief moment of panic as the number of burns on his body increased, but Tuathalan was, after all, a fire mage, and he quickly doused the white-fire before it could truly erupt and turn him into a pillar of flame. But again, Leon didn’t simply stand there and wait for the Warrior-Captain to respond, and he lunged forward and slid his sword in through a gap in Tuathalan’s armor at his armpit, between the sides of his ribs, and straight through his heart.
Tuathalan could only stare at Leon in disbelief, at both his mortal wound and the fact that Leon had been fast enough and dishonorable enough to inflict it. Leon’s lightning burst out of his sword, ravaging Tuathalan’s body until even his eyes went red with blood and his soul realm shattered.
“Fuck honor…” Leon muttered as he pulled his sword from the dead man’s body and kicked the corpse off the bridge to the ground below.
Leon then turned his attention to the soldiers that had just climbed past the bodies in the siege tower to reach the top. When he made eye contact with those in front, it didn’t matter that his aura faded away into the torrent of roiling magic that filled the battlefield, his killing intent was felt and the few Talfar soldiers in front froze up in terror. They were only a trio of third-tier mages, men who couldn’t hope to stand against Leon even if he lacked his armor and sword.
The young knight advanced down the bridge, further terrifying the soldiers within the tower. One of them unconsciously began to backpedal as fast he could, while the others tried to raise their guard, but their hands shook so much that they almost lost hold of their weapons.
Leon didn’t even spare the sword strikes it would’ve taken, he simply reached out and stuck a small stack of white-fire spells on the first man, who couldn’t even move to stop him, and then kicked him backward into his teammates.
The legs of these Talfar soldiers had turned to jelly, and the force of one of their own being thrust back into them was too much for them to bear. All three soldiers fell backward down the stairs of the siege tower and then exploded in stunning white fire. The inside of the siege tower was turned into a searing oven, cooking the rest of the soldiers within to a crisp.
The siege towers were specifically enchanted to resist fire-based attacks, but that was only the thin metal plates and wooden panels on the outside. The inside of the towers hadn’t been given the same treatment, and as Leon’s white fire burned, the unenchanted wooden support beams, floors, and stairs within the tower rapidly disintegrated. As the structure weakened and the mages inside died, the enchantments began to fail, until even the armor glowed red from the heat and the wood panels burst into flame.
Leon darted off the bridge and back onto the gatehouse roof and watched with a satisfied smile hidden by his helmet as the siege tower began to sag inward, and then completely imploded on itself, crumpling to the ground in a heap of cinders, slag, and the ash of incinerated Talfar infantrymen.
“Holy shit…” the Tribune muttered as he watched the siege tower collapse.
The rest of the soldiers in the shield wall stared at Leon in disbelief at what he had just done, making Leon himself relatively uncomfortable.
“Let’s get back to shooting, guys,” the Tribune quickly ordered, bringing the focus of his battalion back to the battle at hand. As the shield wall dissolved and the soldiers returned to shooting arrows, the Tribune quietly clapped Leon on the shoulder and said, “Good work. Damn good work.”
“Thanks,” Leon bashfully replied.
Unfortunately, while the destruction of the siege tower was a feat worthy of celebration, it also had an unintended side-effect: it opened the gatehouse back up for bombardment from Talfar trebuchets.
As soon as the Tribune heard the faint whistling in the air, the tell-tale sign that a trebuchet had launched something at them, he paled and shouted, “DOWN!!!”
Unlike the previous shots, this explosion spell hit its mark, detonating directly on the roof of the gatehouse. The enchantments in the fortified building kept it intact, but forty Legion soldiers were caught in the blast and died instantly. The heat and force of the explosion injured everyone else, throwing them back into the battlements or other soldiers. A couple soldiers were even thrown off the roof, though they at least landed on the wall just twenty feet below them.
“Uggh,” the Tribune groaned as he picked himself up and surveyed the damage. The roof was intact, but it was strewn with blood, bodies, and ash. “Everyone get up! Get downstairs!” he shouted. Now that the Talfar trebuchets had them dialed in, they couldn’t stay on the roof. They’d have to retreat down into the safety of the gatehouse and keep shooting from the arrow loops.
As those soldiers that could walk groggily picked themselves up and began to move, Leon rushed over to where Alix and Anzu had been. Three Legion soldiers had been thrown on top of them, crushing them between the bodies of the soldiers and the battlements. With no small amount of panic, Leon almost threw the bodies of the soldiers off his friend and his griffin.
“What… was that…?” Alix muttered.
“Are you all right? Are you hurt?” Leon asked in a demanding tone.
“Umm… No…?” Alix murmured, clearly a little dazed from the explosion.
Anzu, on the other hand, made it clear that he was in a great deal of pain. He shrieked and whimpered as he tried to stand, but his right wing was bent at an unnatural angle and it seemed to Leon that he couldn’t put too much weight on his right front paw. The griffin also had a few charred feathers and patches of fur, but those at least seemed superficial.
Still, Leon only had to take a single look at the injured Anzu, and his vision went red. He felt his heart rate almost double in anger and his hands shook with the urge to smash his fists into the person responsible. He was lucid enough to briefly contemplate why he didn’t feel this way about the Legion soldiers, but he didn’t know their names, their faces were partially obscured by their helmets, and he honestly didn’t care that much about the Bull Kingdom. But as Anzu kept feebly trying to stand and falling when his broken leg gave out, Leon stopped thinking about why he cared about his fluffy griffin more than he did about the dozens of dead soldiers.
“Alix! Alix!” Leon shouted, bringing Alix back to her senses.
“Ah! Sir… what just… what was that?” Alix asked as she shook her head to try and clear her muddied thoughts.
“We got hit by a Talfar trebuchet!” Leon impatiently responded. By now, more than half of the soldiers had made it downstairs, most carrying the injured and dead. “Listen to me, you need to take Anzu downstairs! Stick with the Tribune, don’t take any risks!”
As her head cleared, Alix blinked at Leon and asked, “You’re not coming with us, Sir?”
Leon frowned, then quickly glared out at the smoke several miles in the distance, where he knew the Talfar trebuchets were firing from. “… I’m not,” he quietly responded.
“Then… what are you going to do?” Alix asked as she pushed herself back to her feet.
Leon was silent for a long moment, before replying, “… Something stupid… Just get Anzu downstairs!”
And with that, the ring on Leon’s finger flashed with magic power and the light began to bend around him, making his body fade from view.
“Leon!” Alix shouted in panic. She reached for Leon in an attempt to keep him from leaving again, but her fingers touched nothing but air. The images of Sam and everyone else she knew back at Fort 127 who were killed by Hakon’s Valemen flashed through her mind. Leon had gotten her through that ordeal, and when he was gone, she couldn’t truly feel safe. This wasn’t much of a problem when she was in the Southern Horn and he was off doing something for Trajan, but when he was doing something dangerous, especially in the middle of a war, she couldn’t help but start to panic.
Alix almost ran after Leon, but the continued whimpering of Anzu gave her pause. She glanced back at the griffin, who was just as terrified at seeing Leon disappear as she was, and she realized that she couldn’t just leave him alone.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she scooped Anzu up in her arms—something which wasn’t that easy to do, given how much he’d grown—and took one more look east. She desperately hoped her friend would return, that he wouldn’t leave her and Anzu alone, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it now. With an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, Alix followed the last few soldiers downstairs to relative safety.
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