The circle was around five meters in diameter, nearlying taking up the entire floor of the smith workshop they had found. Written in chalk, the circle was meticulously drawn to perfection, intricate runes copied directly from the journal of Cortian. He had just finished, as Cli'ven rushed them to enter. Cortian made sure to warn them to keep off the lines, as not to smudge the script.
Roger was worried about Leon. While anyone else may not notice it, Leon had been strangely quiet, even by his own standards. He stepped into the arcane diagram without complaint. It didn’t help that the moment everyone entered the circle, Cli'ven started a group prayer, involving all the paladins.
“Any last minute questions?” Cli'ven asked everyone present, actually waiting for anyone to voice their concerns. After a brief period of time he smiled and nodded.
“Good, send us off Cortian.”
Cortian placed his hands near the circle and closed his eyes. Almost immediately the runic text started to glow faintly. Every man in the circle went still, doubtful anything good could come of this ritual.
Roger heard a strange rattle of metal coming from his right side. He turned his head to investigate, only to see Leon. Roger couldn’t believe his eyes as he witnessed Leon for the first time since they met, trembling.
These two have been through life and death battles. On more than one occasion both have come harrowingly close to their last moment. While Leon may sometimes become uneasy before a large fight, or overthink his current situation, Roger would never call it fear. Yet here was the man he’d seen face death in the eye’s ten times over and come out laughing, scared, shivering in place.
He wanted to say something to ease Leon's worries, nothing came to mind. Roger himself was anxious about what may happen. Standing stock still, he could only spare an empathetic look for Leon.
The glow was now a scathing white, easily seen in daylight. Cortain stood up, admiring his work. Without any further input, he uncorked the bottle of pond water, pouring it into the blinding runes. The light suddenly took on a murky green hue, brightening further.
The men started to shift toward the center of the circle, Leon clenched his jaw as he steadied himself. He looked out toward Cortain. The man was giving a light wave of goodbye, completely oblivious or uncaring of the group's concerns. Leon hated him for it.
The glare rose covering the mens waists, then their chests, before fully encompassing their entire bodies. It was bright, yet somehow not blindingly so, no sound could be heard. Leon turned his head to see no one. When he peered down he could clearly see himself, no shadows were present on his body, giving it an eerie visage.
Leon moved his arms around himself, not making contact with anything. This sent a chilling sensation through his spine. They had all been packed together in that circle, Roger was directly to his left. If he put his arms up earlier then he would have hit someone.
He was alone.
Before the dred of solitude had a chance to encompass Leon's thoughts, something changed. The world darkened. The original light murky green was now growing dark and smothering. This was literal, pressure could be felt across Leon's body, growing in direct proportion to the light.
As the pressure increased, Leon counterintuitively found his body growing much lighter. So light in fact, his feet came off the ground. Panic set in as Leon waved his arms and legs through the resistant air. It felt like swimming.
The air felt wet. It became hard to breath, painful even. Leon began to instinctively hold his breath. There could be no denying the fact that Leon was now under water. He looked skyward, hoping more than ever to see the surface.
There it was, perhaps fifty meters straight above, the light from the sun was only a few meters across. Leon had no idea how long he would last with the air he had, but if he had to guess, it wasn’t enough. Frantically he swam to the opening, his armor weighed on him, slowing his progress a great deal.
Panic set in, there was no way he could make it. The distance too far, and his burden too heavy. His lungs burned, desperate for air. Leon never stopped swimming, even when his vision started to blur. Hope was almost lost, Leon knew the speed he could go was not enough.
Which was why he was surprised as the breach to the surface sped closer and closer to him. In truth he didn't know if it was the surface or him that was moving, it didn’t matter. When he and the surface met Leon's momentum didn’t slow, sending him flying into the air. This was short lived however as he landed back in the water.
Leon was afraid if he went back under, he’d never come back up. This fear was fleeting however as his feet met with the now present bottom. The pond thankfully, only reached up to his mid-thigh. Leon was gasping for breath as he made his way to the nearby shore, following two others that surfaced before him.
“That was by far the second worst way to break into somewhere, I have ever experienced.” Roger growled emptying his helmet of water behind Leon.
“This doesn’t beat the shit tunnel?” Leon gasped while on fours, pulling himself onto the bank.
“No.” Roger gave Leon a look of disbelief.
After Leon caught his breath, he took in his surroundings. They surfaced in some kind of garden area, completely encompassed by a stone border slightly over two meters high, most likely meant for solitude rather than to keep out intruders. Not that it would have helped seeing as eight heavily armed and armored men now resided within.
The garden held a half-dozen trees and multiple flower beds, directly in the center stood a single marble bench. The small pond they found themselves in took up around a fifth of the total area. On the furthest wall from them, the stone continued higher, showing that they were in fact past the secondary walls and right outside the keep. An unguarded door was all that stood between the raid group and their objective.
“Everyone make it through in one piece?” Cli’ven walked out of the pool of water, apparently having had a much easier time then everyone else.
Multiple confirmations came through the five paladins, Leon and Roger not bothering to acknowledge the man. Roger offered a hand to the prone Leon, who gladly took it. Everyone stood around the inquisitor, awaiting further instruction.
“Through that door there, we’ll enter the main hall where Count Elton and our target should be awaiting this very second.” Cli’ven paused, placing a cupped hand around his ear, listening to the distant sound of battle. “It seems the assault is in full swing. Elton would never risk his charge by taking him anywhere near conflict, he would also keep this ‘Petey’ in his sight. They will be guarded. However, thanks to this assault their protectors should be fewer in number.”
Roger barely paid attention, Cli’ven had said this all before they entered the keep. The rest of the group paid apt attention, in case Cli’ven left something out before or if they missed any part. Leon was similar to Roger in this regard, he just wanted this day to be over, a memory he could drink away tonight.
“This is it men, the will of Dorithe himself. Remember your orders and the contingencies we discussed. If all is done correctly then we’ll have made Dorithe proud.” Cli’ven preached giving prideful looks to each of his men individually. “Follow me.”
The inquisitor turned around and headed straight for the doorway. This time Leon walked right behind him, not bothering to head to the back of the group. Following Cli’vens lead they arrived at the door.
“Leon, would you care to knock?” Cli’ven asked Leon, an eager sideways smile showing on his face.
“Gladly.” Leon rumbled, voice raising.
He took a step back, and with a running start planted his right next to the locking mechanism. The didn’t so much as open as it flew off its hinges landing at least two meters from its frame. Whether it was Leon's strength or an old door, couldn’t be said, but that didn’t matter to the collection of shocked faces on the other side.
For several long moments the two sides faced each other, in silence. Just under twenty people were in the hall, most of which were guardsmen. There were two however that stood out, dressed in the expensive clothes of nobility. The older of the two was middle aged, and along his hip was a sword. This was presumably the count.
Before Leon could take the opportunity for further scrutiny, he was interrupted by the count.
This seemed to have an effect as the closest six of the guards charged toward Leon's group, jarred out of their shocked state. The rest of the count’s entourage escorted Elton and his charge out a passage toward the back of the hall, that led further into the keep. The others covered their retreat.
In a display of loyalty, bravery or just stupidity, the half dozen men charged at the raid group. The guards were only wearing gambisens and open face helmets, no better than the average soldier that manned the walls. They didn’t hesitate to follow their lords orders, which ment their almost certain death.
“Shit! We can't let him get away!” Cli’ven barked, charging forward to meet his adversaries.
Leon was shaken earlier, truly out of his comfort zone. This however was familiar ground, and while Leon could not be said to enjoy fighting for his life, he was much more used to it than magic.
Leon met the lead guard, who charged with a fierce if desperate cry. He brought his club down, aimed at Leon's head. Leon using his gauntleted left forearm, smacked into the side of his opponent's wrist with a painful crunch. The club was sent off course, missing Leon's form entirely. The man overextended after missing his target entirely, leaving him wide open for the blade that found itself chopped in the back of his knee.
“Gaah!” The guard fell to the ground, dropping his weapon to hold his crippled leg.
Leon kicked the screaming man onto his back, and with a final double handed thrust downward, pierced through the man's heart ending his misery.
Leon rushed past his dispatched adversary, knowing his group could handle the guards without trouble. He ran toward the passage Count Elton had taken, seeing it was already blocked by a large oaken door. He tried the handle, to find it locked.
Though the guardsmen may have been outnumbered and outmatched, they were still able to delay Leon’s group long enough for their allies to escape.
By the time the rest caught up with him, having finished off the remaining guards, Leon was already in the midst of breaking the door down. It was much more sturdy than the last, taking an exceeding amount of damage before finally crashing inward.
Cli’vens outburst was caused by the scene shown to them all. The door opened up to a hallway, which continued both left and right. Suspiciously signs of the fleeing group could be seen going both directions. This was likely an attempt by Elton to split his pursuers forces.
“Natane! Take your team and go left! We’ll go right. Move!” Cli’ven barked a quick series of orders.
“Understood!” Came Natane replied, immediately following orders and running down the left hall.
Cli’ven was unfortunately left with no choice but to take Elton’s bait. Using the predetermined teams Cli’ven had designated earlier, Leon and Roger went left along with one of the other paladins, following Natane. Cli’ven and the other three broke right at a dead sprint.
The corridor was long and well lit, every eight or so meters they would come across a door to the left hand side. Every time they came across one, they would break it down and the group would give a courtesy look before moving on. The rooms were spacious yet not enough for any amount of soldiers to hide effectively.
At the end of the hallway on the left, there was a stairwell leading down. Natane slowed enough as not to go crashing down the stairs, but still kept his pace brisk. Leon guessed they descended at least twenty meters or so. The windows were no longer present, leading to the assumption they were now underground.
They came to the end of the steps and were not at all surprised to see another hall. Natane continued their course, coming to a stop in front of the first room, signaling Leon to knock the door down.
Leon complied, lining himself up with the door. He took a running start, getting ready to bring his foot up to kick it in. The door crashed coming clean off its hinges.
The wrong way.
It slammed into Leon knocking him backwards into the stone wall. His head hit first sending his vision spinning and ears ringing. Even with his skewed sight Leon could make out what happend.
The one who knocked the door down and came out of the room first was a fully armored individual, he sported a tabard with the yellow insignia of house Elton. This man was as large as Leon, towering over everyone around him by about ten centimeters. Following him were five other guards, each of which only wore the lesser gambisons of their now deceased peers. Though a couple had shields, that had a chance to help even odds.
They immediately set upon Leon's allies four to three. One of the men held back, approaching Leon's downed form with the intent of finishing him off, assuming Leon was defenceless.
A poor assumption.
The moment the soldier was close enough, Leon kicked out, taking the man's feet out from under him causing him to fall. He landed splayed on the ground, groaning from the air being knocked out of him. Leon quickly crawled on to the toppled man, pinning him in place. He placed his blade over the man's neck and summarily slit hit his throat.
The man died loudly, drowning in his own blood. Leon stood, picking his deceased opponent's weapon, a mace. Looking over at the skirmish, it seemed individual duels were taking place. One other guard laid dead at Natane’s feet, as he dueled another. Roger was the worst off, having to take the fully armored leader and another, more average soldier.
Leon threw the mace, scoring a hit in retribution on the large man's helmet, knocking his head back painfully, staggering him. Before the mace landed Leon was already charging at his target. Shoulder first, he crashed into the large man, successfully disengaging him from Roger.
His opponent was skilled, during his reckless charge Leon caught an elbow to his face. This halted his assault and stopped him from knocking the man over, losing his chance at an early advantage. Leon shook his head, woozy from the consecutive impacts to his skull, and incredibly pissed off.
The two regained their balance, facing off against each other. Leon raised up his sword in a two handed grip. His foe did as well, using a larger blade made for two handed use. Leon preferred versatility to striking power, so there was no doubt if one was struck by that greatsword it would hit harder than Leon's bastard sword ever could.
Simultaneously the adversaries attacked at once, Leon was immediately put on the defensive. He was much more wary of his opponent's weapon than his opponent was of his, allowing the man to make a more ambitious series of attacks.
The large sword was slow, but not overly so. Its wielder was skilled, wasting little movement and leaving very few openings. It took both of Leon’s hands to parry each blow, his shorter blade not offering enough leverage.
Even though Leon's defense was strong, he was at a severe disadvantage if he couldn’t interrupt the flurry of strikes. Leon waited for his opening, if he was too eager and attacked too early, he would be left open, and undeniably take a major hit.
A glancing blow sent a burning pain shooting up his left arm, Leon grunted but didn’t let up his defence. He just needed a window, a crack in the man's defence to turn the fight in his favor.
There it is.
A small misstep in the man's footwork, only for a split second, having to catch his weight with his right foot. This placed his upper body slightly closer, within Leon's reach.
The man smiled in victory from within his helm, as he saw Leon go for the fake opening he left. He reversed his footing pushing away, bringing his head out of the path of Leon's sword. With this, Leon would be left open for his next strike and hopefully ending the duel. The man watched the blade wiz by his face, in his mind he had already won.
What he didn’t expect was Leon's fist crashing hard against the side of his chin, spinning his helmet slightly over his eyes. The sheer impact was comparable to the thrown mace that had already left him seeing double.
Leon’s play had been risky. He’d seen the trick his opponent used before, learning ways to counter and even use it to his advantage. Not many people had the mental discipline to have a blade fly in front of their face and not watch it the whole time. So when he went for the opening, he took his right hand off the hilt off his sword mid swing, to deliver a devastating haymaker.
Leon didn’t let up. The other man had to twist his helmet back to see properly, giving Leon time to enact his next move. He flipped his sword, holding it by the blade. Using the entirety of his weight and strength Leon swung his reversed sword, clubbing the armored man in the temple with the crossguard.
A resounding echo could be heard through the hall as the man's helmet rang like a bell, followed by the thump of his body falling over limp.
Leon took a knee to catch his breath, it was a hard fought victory. The others finished their opponents, coming to stand next to him. Leon pulled up his face plate, blowing blood out of his surly broken nose. His arm was slightly numb, courtesy of the oversized blade his opponent struck him with.
“Paid back that save quicker than I thought you would, hell of a job man.” Roger clapped Leon's shoulder. Leon turned back to see Roger had blood leaking down the side of his face, a nasty gash over his left eye.
“Yes. Yes good work Leon, but we don't have time for patting ourselves on the back.” Natane interrupted, reaching a hand out to help Leon to his feet. “We have work to do.”
The other paladin took off his helmet, one of his eyes was swollen shut. Leon heard him called La’raf by Natane.
“That must have been Commander Bre’non, Elton can’t be too far off.” La’raf supplied, wiping the blood out of his face before putting his helmet back on.
The room the abush came from was bare, not a single chair or bed present. The hallway was empty, the doors were much further apart than they were upstairs. When they finally did come across something, it was at the very end of the corridor.
Two men, each with only a short blade and religious robes, their knees were shaking. They looked like priests, who had never even held a weapon before today. Despite their fear they stood in the path of Leon’s group, unmoving.
“Leave, this isn’t worth your lives!” Natane barked at the two men.
“We shall not abandon the Chosen of Sapien!” The left one said, his partner nodden frantically along.
“Very well, I respect the dedication you place in your faith.” Natane shook his head, looking low.
Natane alone charged forward. Leon and Roger stood back, averting their gaze as Natane single handedly finished the gruesome task of slaying the holy men.
“Unfortunate.” Was all he said, stepping over the bodies and opening the door behind, La’raf followed.
Leon and Roger locked eyes and shook their heads ruefully. They have dealt with worse things than this, but it never became easy to watch innocents die. Unfortunately, travesty came with the job. They too followed Natane through the doorway.
Unlike the other rooms on this level, this one was fully furnished. Several smaller cots lined the back wall, each had its own chest and night stand. In the furthest corner of the room from the door there were two people, one standing on the shoulders of the other.
They seemed to have been, with great difficulty, trying to open a hole in the wall, brick by brick. Count Elton was presently supporting the weight of the smaller teen, trying to fit him through the to-small entry.
The Count heard the group enter into the room, he turned his head and immediately paled.
“Hurry!” The gruff voice of Elton ordered.
Their target's face was not visible, but it seemed as if he finally started to squeeze through the hole, as his feet lifted from the Counts brace.
“Leon! Stop him!” Natanes counter order sounded, pointing at the pair of legs struggling to flee.
Leon immediately made a mad dash at his target, intent on stopping him from getting away. Elton made to intercept him, only to in turn be blocked by Leon’s companions.The count wore armor that appeared more for ceremony than practical use, but his stance was that of a seasoned veteran.
Which only made it all the more saddening at how sickeningly easy it was for the three elite combatants to subdue him, without so much as a drop of blood being spilt.
Leon caught the man by his legs and wretched him from the tunnel. The boy fell to the ground dazed for a moment before cowering away into the corner in fear. The target was small to say the least, not short so much as scrawny. His skin was clear, and his blond hair short, he looked as if he'd never seen a day of work in his life.
Leon walked over intent on grabbing the smaller teen. Terror renewed across the boy's face, he tried to force himself further into the corner.
“God, no! Please, s-stay back!” He screamed at Leon, starting to hyperventilate.
“What's wrong? Hurry up! Bind him!” Natane commanded.
Leon ignored Natane’s orders, continuing his silence. The words the kid spoke were alien to everyone else in the room. They had no idea why Leon had stilled so completely. Roger had a guess.
“Are you okay, Leon?” Roger asked his friend, a pit opened in his stomach
Leon didn’t register Roger’s question as he stared at the cowering boy. It took a moment for Leon to build up the nerve to speak.
“C-Can you understand me?” Leon asked in english.