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The morning shone bright on the crimson armor of the army standing in neat rows in front of the Moon Wolf Citadel. It would have been a peaceful, artistic scene, with the army and the citadel presenting a sharp contrast against the wild mountains to the sides if it wasn’t for the steady stream of loud swearing spewing from the commander’s mouth as he stared in abject fury at the citadel wall.

“Is that Angdrin?” Mina nudged Velin.

“Yes, at least I think so.” The elf nodded, examining her notebook. “Though he is normally much calmer than this.”

Standing atop the gatehouse, Thorn watched the raging leader of the Crimson Snakes with interest. The enemy army had arrived almost an hour ago but had not sent anyone forward to negotiate. Instead, Angdrin had exploded with anger, swearing and throwing things as he raved. Thorn had not been exposed to much foul language growing up, so he was finding this episode quite instructive.

After a few more minutes, another figure came forward, putting a hand on Angdrin’s shoulder. Dressed in heavy black armor, with a full helm, Thorn could not identify who it was, though he felt immediate revulsion at the sight. Talking together, the two were far enough from the wall that their voices could not be heard, but it wasn’t that difficult to figure out what they were talking about. After speaking to the black armored figure, Angdrin stepped forward, his crimson cape billowing behind him.

“Greetings. I am Angdrin, leader of the Crimson Snakes, vice leader of Ragnarok. We wish to speak to the ruler of this castle.”

“Steady, Thorn.” Velin appeared at the giant’s side. “He is trying to subtly threaten us.”

“Don’t worry. I know what to do.” Thorn nodded to Captain Del’har who stepped forward.

“The valley is closed, traveler. Please go back where you came from.” The tall Wolfkin leaned over the parapet, shouting down to Angdrin.

“We come in peace and bring many benefits. Consider well before you reject us.”

“Peace? Then why do I see an army?” Scoffing, the Captain laughed at the Crimson Snake commander. “You are not welcome here. Take your soldiers and leave.”

“You are making a huge mistake.” Veins in Angdrin’s neck bulged briefly as he struggled to keep his anger under control.

“Don’t worry about us. The valley is closed.”

Watching the captain disappear from the top of the wall, it was all that Angdrin could do to keep himself from rushing forward to smash the gate. With a visible effort, he took deep breaths, calming himself.

“Was this part of your plan?” Despite all his restraint, he could not stop himself from snapping at the black armored figure as he walked back to the army. “A twenty-five foot high wall? Where did this castle come from?”

“I’m not sure, but it is certainly a mixed blessing.”

“A mixed blessing? Are you serious? How could having a massive fortress blocking me off from my land be considered a good thing?”

“Sure, it is in your way now. But what about after you conquer it? It won’t disappear, right? That means you will have a massive fortress. Imagine people’s faces when you speak to them from atop that wall.” Ouroboros’ voice drifted softly around Angdrin, cooling his anger and hardening his determination.

“That is true. Per our agreement, the land and everything on it is mine.” Angdrin looked at Ouroboros from the corner of his eyes. “That includes the fortress, right?”

“Of course it does. Like I said, I’m only here to prove myself trustworthy. The spoils will all go to you this time around.”

“If that is the case, then we attack.”

“You don’t want to try negotiating one more time?”

“No.” Angdrin was determined. “You know how stubborn natives are. The only way they will listen is with a sword through their gut.” Lifting his hand, he was about to command his army to advance when the hair on the back of his neck rose and a sense of danger swept over him. “[Blood Shie…]!”

*Whump*

Angdrin had almost finished summoning his [Blood Shield] when a massive bolt from a siege crossbow ripped through the air, glancing off the half formed red orb in front of him, sending him tumbling to the ground. The bolt smashed into the ground, showering the area in dirt. It had come without warning and would have skewered Angdrin through his chest if he had not been instinctively moving to the side.

Even with his defensive ability, the sheer force of the attack glancing off his shield knocked him from his feet. Rolling over, Angdrin scrambled to his feet, looking around wildly. For a moment, the only sound in the pass was his ragged panting.

*Creak*

The clear sound of a crossbow being reloaded drew all eyes to the top of the gate where Thorn stood, his arbalest loaded and leveled. Silent, he stood there, his armor glinting silver in the morning light.

At the sight of the giant, Angdrin took an instinctive step back, watching him warily. It took him a moment to realize that the bolt was not even pointed at him. Thorn’s arbalest never wavered, his large hands holding it as still as stone, fixed firmly on the player in black armor.

“The valley is closed.” Thorn’s deep voice brooked no argument.

“Thorn!” All of the fury that Angdrin had been trying so hard to rein in burst forth like a river through a breached dam, completely erasing any restraint he had possessed. “Charge! Kill them all!”

Responding with a roar, the Crimson Snakes surged forward into the pass, weapons drawn. A block of archers drew their bows, sending arrows flying toward the top of the wall to try and provide cover for the charging warriors. Behind them, healers began casting buffs on the warriors, trying to minimize damage as much as possible.

“Shields up!” bellowed Captain Del’har, sending the top of the wall into a flurry of action. Lifting the large wooden shields, the soldiers rested one end in the slot cut in the wall and propped up the other end with the wooden poles that had been cut from the forest.

“Return fire!”

The Freemen archers stepped forward, their well used bows drawn to the fullest. A sharp hiss rose as the arrows shot forward, falling on the charging warriors. Groups of four arrows targeted the same warrior, causing casualties immediately. Each group of archers contained four Freemen and two hunters. The leader of each group would call a target and all four archers would fire on the target, usually causing instant death. Next to them, the two hunters from Greymane Village would have arrows ready to hand them.

Wave after wave of concentrated fire poured from the wall, cutting down the Crimson Snake fighters. Ouroboros, seeing the shields go up, instantly knew that things were going to go poorly for the Crimson Snakes and called his forces back. Angdrin, oblivious to the damage being caused to his army, charged blindly forward, his elite squad surrounding him.

Seeing them run forward, Captain Del’har commanded four squads to focus fire on Angdrin’s group. Twelve arrows shot out with deadly accuracy, each aiming for one of the warriors around the Crimson Snake leader. Almost instinctively, the four targeted warriors lifted their shields, knocking aside the arrows with ease. Seeing that the arrows would have no effect, the Captain commanded the archers to resume firing at the regular soldiers.

Thorn had kept his arbalest aimed at the black armored enemy, who had not moved a single step from his original position. The black armored warrior gave Thorn a dangerous feeling. Seeing that he was still just standing there, Thorn swung his arbalest toward Angdrin, watching for movement. Still, the black armored man just stood in place, watching.

Tearing his eyes away, Thorn aimed at Angdrin’s advancing party and fired, sending the large bolt flying through the air. This time, Angdrin was ready and a quick chant raised a red swirling shield over the group. Splintering on the shield, the bolt exploded into shards, peppering the surrounding fighters with slivers of wood and steel. A second and third bolt soon followed the fate of the first, hardly slowing their advance.

By this point, the warriors had reached the wall and began to toss out grappling hooks, trying to gain purchase on the wall. As fast as they landed on the wall, the hunters would dash forward, severing the ropes under the cover of the archers. Back and forth, the two forces fought in a mad scramble to control the top of the wall. Near the front gate, Angdrin and his group stopped, the warriors keeping their shields up. Angdrin began to chant, his voice growing in power as the chant came to a climax.

“Velin, what is that?” Thorn asked, his voice carrying over the din of the battle.

“A movement spell, they’re coming up to the top of the gate.” Velin calmly pointed to a growing red dot in the air near them.

“Everyone retreat.” Thorn waved for the Wolfkin disciples that had crowded around to move away. “I don’t want to reveal any more strength than we need to. Mina, can you help me handle them?”

“Of course!” excited to be asked, Mina began to mutter under her breath, cold air beginning to surge around her.

The red dot expanded suddenly, sending out a rippling ring of burning heat. The area inside the ring rippled, and Angdrin appeared, surrounded by his five guards with their shields up. Instead of the wall of weapons that they expected to see, they found themselves in a largely empty space, facing a charging giant and a metric ton of icy snow.

“[Avalanche!]” Mina’s spell created an abrupt snowfall over the group, slowing their movements and trapping them in three feet of snow. The burning temperature around them plummeted, reaching freezing in a matter of seconds, causing their weapons and armor to creak alarmingly as the temperature change strained the metal.

“[Burning Blood!]” Not to be outdone, Angdrin responded instantly, sending out a wave of heat to melt the snow, following it up by summoning three large fireballs, only for them to be pierced by a barrage of ice spikes. Seeing his fireballs fizzling out, Angdrin gritted his teeth. “Mina!”

“Hey, Angdrin? How is it going? Enjoying yourself these days? I heard that Ouroboros has been walking all over you. That can’t be very comfortable.” Somehow, the Ice Witch managed to keep up a steady stream of small talk as she summoned endless waves of ice spikes, forcing the Blood Mage into a defensive position.

“Shut up!” Angdrin squeezed the words out from between his clenched jaws as he maintained his shield. Just about to call for assistance, he felt a movement at his side and looked over in time to see one of his elite guards being blown off his feet.

As Mina had engaged Angdrin, Thorn charged forward striking out with his metal club. The warrior in his path smashed his sword on his shield, creating a thick red barrier on his shield’s face. Tensing his muscles, he got ready to absorb the blow, planning on creating an opportunity for his teammates to counter-attack. Without needing to communicate verbally, the other warriors rushed forward, intending to strike as soon as Thorn’s momentum was halted.

Unfortunately for the Crimson Snake warriors, nothing went as planned. Thorn continued to charge forward, his blow connecting with the blood colored shield. With a sharp crack that rang over the battlefield, the shield shattered, and the force of the blow continued forward, blasting the warrior off of his feet and over the parapet. Flying straight backwards, the warrior did not begin to fall to the ground for almost twenty feet, going straight over the heads of the Crimson Snake army. Smashing into the ground, his body cut a furrow in the battlefield, tumbling over and over before exploding into particles of light.

Awestruck, the army looked up toward the top of the wall and witnessed two more of the elite guards meeting the same fate as the first. The last two guards looked at Thorn with horror, their minds trying to catch up to the fact that he had just completely obliterated three of them. Before they could react, he was on them, cutting them down with a single sharp swing. Turning his head, Thorn’s eyes landed on Angdrin, who flinched.

Taking advantage of the Blood Mage’s distraction, Mina summoned a larger ice spear that thrust forward, punching through the blood shield. Wincing in pain as the ice spear scraped along his ribs, Angdrin panicked at the sight of Thorn striding toward him.

“[Blood Escape!]” With a shrill yell, the commander of the Crimson Snakes disappeared in a bloody flash.

“[Sub Zero!]” A split second late, Mina tried to stun Angdrin, causing the temperature where he had stood a moment before to plunge to arctic levels. A large blob of blood that had not yet disappeared froze instantly, dropping to the ground where it shattered into countless pieces.

On the battlefield below, Angdrin reappeared, stumbling to the ground. A large wound formed in his stomach, caused by the blood he had left behind. Groaning with pain, he struggled to get up, staggering toward Ouroboros, who still stood calmly in the same place that he stood since the beginning of the attack.

Mina, rushing to the edge of the wall, grumbled. She had hoped to kill Angdrin in one blow, but had been a split second late. Still, forcing him to retreat was not a bad result. Turning to Thorn, who was looking quite impressed, she beamed.

“Ha, see that? He did not stand a chance.”

“You were very impressive.” Thorn had to admit that he had underestimated the short witch. Up to this point, he had only seen her fight as supporting ranged damage. However, in this fight, she had stepped up and acted as a direct combatant, dueling Angdrin directly.

“Just see that you remember it the next time you assign tasks.” Mina nodded smugly. “Hey, look over there. Something is happening with that armored guy.”

At the entrance to the pass, Ouroboros finally moved. Stepping forward, he supported Angdrin, who was about to collapse, while waving for a healer. Putting his arm around Angdrin’s shoulders to steady him, Ouroboros led him away from the castle wall.

“A healer is coming. Just rest up for a moment, and you will be good as new.” Ouroboros’ voice was calming, causing Angdrin’s tension to bleed out of him. Opening his mouth to speak, he suddenly choked, coughing up a mouthful of blood. Unable to see the smile on Ouroboros’ face because of his helmet, Angdrin struggled to speak, his hand landing powerlessly on Ouroboros’ chest plate. Losing strength, his hand dropped, leaving a bloody streak as it fell.

“His wounds are too grievous. It looks like they used a powerful poison.” Ouroboros spoke with sorrow in his voice as he laid the now powerless Blood Mage on the ground. The approaching healer cast her spell, but to no avail. She could only watch, helpless, as her leader disappeared into particles of light.

“Collect his belongings, and sound the retreat. We need to regroup.” Ouroboros looked at the citadel blocking the entrance to the valley as he slipped the dagger in his hand back into his inventory. “But fear not, I will lead us to victory on Angdrin’s behalf.”

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If you've enjoyed what you read and are interested in reading more, please consider supporting me on Patreon where you can read all of Book #2 and advanced chapters from Book #3. Come explore the world of Nova Terra and help me determine where the story goes.

You can find out more about me at sethring.com


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WildCard

Bio: My name is Seth Ring and I am a writer. I create worlds and tell the stories of those who inhabit them. I love exploring these new worlds with other people. I post a chapter every Friday around 12 pm EST. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.

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