‘I shouldn’t be doing this…’ Leon thought to himself as he leaped down to the ground from the roof of the gatehouse on the east side of the wall. He knew that what he was doing was reckless, stupid, and irresponsible, the exact kind of thing that Trajan had been trying to ensure he would never do after his exploration of the stone giants’ Cradle.
But every time he thought about turning back, he thought about Anzu’s broken leg and wing. To a lesser degree, he thought about the rest of the Legion soldiers, but if he were honest with himself he was going because those trebuchets had harmed his little griffin.
His anger quickly cooled as he ran eastward, passing by the slowly advancing battalions of Talfar infantry. He wasn’t acting out of white-hot, uncontrollable rage, he was quite in control of himself. He was choosing to do this, despite knowing how dangerous and reckless it was.
Not once did his footsteps falter from indecision or hesitation. He still had more than three hundred of those spells sitting in his soul realm, along with more than a thousand arrows, and he planned to use them.
‘For Anzu,’ Leon thought. As his thoughts began to wander a little, he thought again of Bran. The vampire was dead, but Leon still desired catharsis. A wicked grin spread over his invisible face, and he added, ‘And for me as well…’
There were large gaps between the Talfar lines as they congregated around the remaining seven siege towers—one tower had been destroyed by the fleet, another was destroyed by Legion trebuchets, and the third met its destruction at his hands with white-fire spells. These gaps in the Talfar line made it almost trivially easy for the invisible Leon to pass them by.
A few times, Leon was tempted to strike at some of the vulnerable Talfar commanders he saw in chariots, who believed themselves safe behind thousands of Talfar warriors, but he knew that such an act would likely end with his death. He didn’t just want to cause severe damage to these people, he wanted to live to see them defeated.
When he reached the back of the infantry lines, he saw both Owain and Arthwyn in front of the cavalry, watching the battle continue with an almost surreal calm. The Prince was quiet and stoic, projecting an air of confidence for the benefit of his warriors. Arthwyn, on the other hand, frequently turned to several of his adjutants and whispered a few words while gesturing at various points of the walls.
One of these adjutants stood out to Leon. He, after receiving some instructions from Arthwyn, took off running to the east.
Leon’s smile grew predatory; he guessed that this man was on his way to at least of the Talfar trebuchets that were still lobbing enchanted projectiles at the wall. Leon followed this man’s path through the cavalry, who were standing in a tight, unmoving formation. He had to slow down quite a bit as he passed through here, as even brushing up against any of the chariots or cataphracts would instantly reveal him in the middle of the Talfar formation. Fortunately, the path that the adjutant took went through several battalions, which had fairly sizeable gaps between their formations.
Still, there were a few close calls from restless horses almost bumping into him, and several careless cataphracts letting their lances rest in places that he almost tripped over. By the time he reached the back of the cavalry formations, he was about as tense as he’d ever been, but it wasn’t time to relax. Behind the cavalry were several long columns of people ferrying water, delivering messages, and performing other support tasks.
Fortunately, there weren’t many of them relative to the size of the army, and Leon found it fairly easy to slip past. However, getting past the cavalry and then the supporting servants slowed him down enough that he lost sight of the adjutant he’d been following.
Leon pressed on, regardless. The trebuchets were somewhere in the smoke behind the Talfar army, and he was determined to find them. He figured it shouldn’t be that difficult, as trebuchets were hardly silent and needed plenty of people to operate and guard them, not to mention more support servants bringing them additional ammunition.
With this in mind, Leon ran into the smoke.
It didn’t take long to find his first target, all he had to do was follow the faint sounds of shouting, creaking wood, and ropes snapping taut and he found a trebuchet right away. It was being operated by about a dozen people, from mages maintaining the enchantments that gave the weapon enough power to hit the wall from miles away, to lower-tiered servants that were actually manipulating the machinery. In addition, there were about half a dozen guards posted, but they were all weaker than Leon, their leader being the strongest at the fourth-tier.
Leon slowed to a halt and unlimbered his bow. It was time to cause some damage.
He summoned a handful of arrows from his soul realm, but he didn’t rush into things, he took a few minutes to watch the people around the weapon and plan how he was going to do this. Once he chose his targets, he fired four arrows so quickly that the fourth target barely even had time to react to the first man dying before an arrow pierced his throat.
Leon had shot and killed four of the men operating the trebuchet, and there was a moment where everyone else froze in confusion. However, as soon as Leon’s next handful of arrows began to kill the guards, everyone knew that they were being attacked, and they scrambled for cover. One guard attempted to blow a horn to signal their situation to the main army, but Leon quickly silenced him before the horn touched his lips.
In less than two minutes, Leon had killed half of the people around the trebuchet, but the other half had managed to take cover and he had to move in order to get a good shot on them. He had no qualms about doing so, and he started falling back into his hunting habits from back when he lived in the Northern Vales. He moved as silently as a man could, and with his ring of invisibility and expert archery skills, the remaining men around the trebuchet were killed in short order.
No signal had been given, Talfar had no idea that one of their most potent siege weapons had just fallen silent; the smoke concealed the trebuchets from them, as well.
Still, Leon knew that there would be spotters and runners who would eventually find out what he had done, but he didn’t care. He didn’t intend to leave anything behind for them to use, anyway. He slapped about half a dozen white-fire spells onto the trebuchet and activated them, causing the weapon to burst into a huge bonfire. Leon immediately turned to rush back into the smoke to find his next target, but before he’d even managed to do that the trebuchet had already been rendered into ash and charcoal.
It was fortunate for him that his spells didn’t break his invisibility when he summoned them. This possibility had occurred to Leon several weeks after he mastered storing objects in his soul realm, so he’d rigorously tested it once he found the opportunity.
His invisibility would break upon the slightest contact with any other magical object that he hadn’t been in contact with when the invisibility enchantment was activated. Those magical objects he was in direct contact with, however, would be made invisible along with him, and he was happy to learn through his experiments that this included objects in his soul realm. When he summoned his spells, his invisibility was thus maintained.
The next trebuchet he came across about five minutes later wasn’t actually firing. A lucky shot from one of the Legion trebuchets had hit nearby and the Talfar trebuchet had been almost completely flipped over by one of the dozens of rock spikes that the Legion spell had created. The dozen and a half or so people assigned to the weapon were busy trying to pull it off the spike and making little progress, from what Leon could tell. They needed an earth mage to come and gently lower the spike—and thus, the trebuchet—back to the ground, but almost all of the mages capable of elemental magic were fighting near the wall, leaving it to the operators to try and right their siege weapon.
‘Perfect,’ Leon thought with a smile of gratification on his lips. Because of their work, most of the warriors and servants around the trebuchet were bunched up, making them perfect targets.
Leon summoned a pair of arrows with different attached spells. The first he handled with great care as he nocked it to the bowstring and drew it back. He aimed with even greater care, then loosed it into the center of the working Talfar warriors.
There was a brief delay when it hit the ground, causing some of the warriors and workers to glance over in curiosity. Before any of them could react, though, it detonated in a bright orange fireball, consuming nearly all of the Talfar warriors around it. It died down just as quickly, but only three servants around the trebuchet were left alive.
Leon’s smile grew even wider. This had been the first time he’d used this spell, and it had worked perfectly. His second arrow was new as well, and potentially even more dangerous. He quickly fired it at the trebuchet and stood back to watch the result.
The arrow hit the frame near the base of the weapon. A moment later, an explosion of sparks and golden lightning shattered the trebuchet into dust and tiny splinters of wood, while the bodies of the dead and injured around it burst like overstuffed sacks of meat from the force of the blast.
An intense feeling of elation welled up within Leon at seeing the success of his spells, at the obvious symbol of his greater skill in enchanting than he possessed even just a few a months ago. The fire spell, especially, as while the lightning spell was one he’d managed to reproduce from reading books he’d brought out of his family’s archives in Teira—this one was called Heaven’s Wrath, a bit too grandiose of a name for Leon’s liking—the fire spell was one that he’d created himself. It wasn’t especially unique in performance, there being no shortage of fire spells that create big fiery explosions, but this was still one that Leon had created after experimenting with some of the enchantments that Xaphan had taught him.
There was a brief moment where Leon wondered if the demon was watching. He didn’t think so, Xaphan was even more obsessed with regaining his lost power than Leon was in gaining power, even after the illusions Bran subjected him to. He wondered if the demon would take any pride in Leon’s progress.
But then, Leon wondered, ‘Why in all the hells am I hoping for that guy’s attention? Not like his acclaim or acceptance would change anything…’
He quickly shook his head to rid himself of this obviously heretical notion of somehow impressing Xaphan and ran off back into the smoke. He had more trebuchets to attack and a limited amount of time to do so before the Talfar army realized what was happening and mobilized its cavalry to protect their siege weapons, which would prevent him from continuing his assault. There was no time to wonder if Xaphan was impressed or not.
Arthwyn grimaced as he watched another siege tower fall. It seemed that the Bull’s traps weren’t exclusive to the vale, as once the tower had been rolled into position, it burst into flame from a fire enchantment beneath it. All down the wall, in fact, small enchantments were activating. None were particularly big or devasting in themselves, but…
‘… There are so damned many of them…’ Arthwyn thought.
He’d lost half of his siege towers, and his casualties were easily over ten thousand, perhaps as high as twenty or twenty-five. And yet, he didn’t order his warriors to retreat. Casualties were high, but they were gaining ground in some places just as they were taking losses in others.
Case in point, one of the towers on the wall had been seized by his warriors, and three more were being bitterly contested. If he held out long enough, the army would be able to take the first wall in short order, and then they could move on to the second.
“Start bombarding the second and third walls,” he calmly ordered. His order was relayed and the signals were given, and the Talfar trebuchets began to alter their targets to the walls further west. There were too many Talfar warriors close to the first wall for them to continue firing, anyway.
However, Arthwyn noticed that the trebuchet barrage seemed a bit light, there weren’t as many explosions as there should’ve been. He waited a little bit longer, but when it became clear that there were some trebuchets that simply weren’t firing, he quickly ordered for a report on their status.
Less than ten minutes later, his assistant that had been dispatched to make that report returned, breathless and pale.
“My… Lord,” the man gasped as he fought to breathe and report the disaster at once.
“What is it?” Arthwyn asked, his voice measured and even, though he could tell that the news wasn’t good from the look on his assistant’s face.
“The tre…buchets… have been… attacked!” the man choked out.
“What?! By who?!” Arthwyn shouted.
“Don’t know…” the assistant responded, finally settling his breathing down after his hurried ride across the vale. “But we’ve already lost five of our trebuchets!”
“What did you say?” Owain demanded, just picking up on the seriousness of the conversation.
Arthwyn ignored the Prince and immediately ordered, “Send out squads of cataphracts! Find who’s been attacking our weapons and kill them! And send more out to protect those we have left!”
Talfar only had fourteen trebuchets and losing five at once was an enormous loss.
“Emrys!” Arthwyn shouted, calling for one of his most trusted Warrior-Chiefs.
“My Lord,” the man responded as he rode up in his chariot, stopping just a few feet away from Arthwyn.
Arthwyn quickly relayed what was happening, and added, “I’m giving you command of this. Protect our weapons!”
“I won’t fail you,” the sixth-tier Warrior-Chief responded, his expression grave. He knew the importance of this task, and he wasn’t going to take it lightly. He immediately had his chariot turned around and returned to his battalion. His one hundred chariots then slowly began their exploration of the vale.
Somewhere in there, shrouded in smoke, was an enemy strong or numerous enough to hit their vulnerable siege weapons, but not so much that they dared to attack the main army in the rear. But Emrys wasn’t going to underestimate his foe.
‘I’ll find you, whoever you are, and when I do, it will mean your end,’ the Warrior-Chief thought with determination.
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