“Don’t just hang there, you green idiot! Tell us what you see!” Saeter ordered the hobgoblin.
Blacknail suppressed his irritation at being addressed so rudely, and then began to explain what was happening to the others. A force led by Werrick himself was headed straight towards the gate Herad was trying to defend.
None of his companions seemed to think this was good news. Nervousness and fear was plain on their faces. Their reactions surprised the hobgoblin. A battle between chiefs sounded exciting to him!
“Showing himself now makes no bloody sense!” Vorscha cursed aloud. “He’s got the advantage in numbers so he should be wearing us down, not leading a charge.”
Without warning, a sizzling ball of flame burst into existence and shot towards the group of people beneath the wolf banner. Mahedium had revealed himself in a display of fiery power.
Before the flaming orb could reach its target, a lanky figure beside Werrick raised a hand. A shimmering wall of force sprang into existence and smashed into the fireball. The flames were battered aside before disintegrating into a brilliant rain of sparks. The shower of tiny lights fell over the battlefield without any noticeable effect.
Werrick’s advance continued unimpeded. The huge armoured figure reached the frontline, and his troops cheered as they stepped aside for him. The sound of bandits screaming in exhilaration filled the air and drowned out everything else.
“The Wolf has come! Forward to victory!” they roared excitedly as they redoubled their attack on Herad’s camp.
Their annoying voices hurt Blacknail’s sensitive ears. Now he really wanted to kill them, if only to shut them up. Also, their cheer was stupid.
“We need to get closer,” Saeter exclaimed in frustration as he looked around.
There was a small lookout platform around halfway down the wall in Herad’s direction. There was no way to get through the press of bodies at the front lines so Saeter headed over to it. Vorscha and Geralhd were quick to follow.
Blacknail gave them all a head start before racing ahead. They were just humans so he was much faster than them. He barely had to try.
“Down now,” Vorscha ordered the archers in the tower. “We need to see what’s going on.”
After they quickly climbed down to obey her, Saeter made his way up the rickety ladder. It was little more than a bunch of branches tied together by rope, and the platform itself was little better.
Vorscha and Geralhd followed him one after the other. There was only room for about three people on the crude wooden platform, so Blacknail simply climbed up the wall again.
From their new vantage point they saw Werrick and his elite join the melee. His banner flapped loudly in the wind overhead as the Wolf wadded into combat. The huge warrior had a shield in one hand and a long sword in the other. His heavy steel armor and ornate helmet shaped like a wolf’s head made him easy to pick out of the crowd.
With seemingly unstoppable momentum, Werrick began to cut down Herad’s forces. They broke before him like the tide hitting a rock, as his blade cleaved and knocked them aside. None of her men so much as slowed him down and they began to fall back away from him in fear.
The tide of battle swiftly changed and the attackers began steadily gaining ground. Herad didn’t take this challenge lying down. She screamed out a series of orders from where she stood at the back of the battle.
Instantly, her bodyguards and Mahedium rushed to her side. With the bandit chieftain at the lead, they formed a solid wedge that moved to intercept Werrick’s advance.
“Why aren’t the mages calling up any magic?” Geralhd asked as he squinted in Mahedium’s direction and leaned over a wooden rail.
“They’re too close for that now,” Vorscha cursed. “I doubt our comrades would appreciate Mahedium dropping a ball of fire on their heads while they are fighting.”
“They also need to keep their defenses ready in case of surprise attacks,” Saeter added. “That close to the melee they need to be careful, and the first thing on a mage’s mind is always their own safety.”
As Blacknail’s group watched, the two bandit chieftains quickly converged on each other. Without needing to be told, fighters from both sides moved out of the way and gave them space. Soon, only a few feet separated the two parties. They stared ferociously at each other as they converged.
The fury of all the nearby combatants ebbed slightly as they noticed what was about to take place among them. Everyone knew that if Herad and Werrick fought the outcome would determine the course of the battle. Even if they were fighting for their life no one wanted to miss this.
“Shit, she's going to fight him herself!” Saeter swore. “I need to get over there.”
Before he could take more than a single step, Vorscha placed a hand on his shoulder to restrain him. He stopped and glared at her. The wrinkles around his eyes seemed deeper than usual.
“There’s nothing you can do. You’ll never cross the field safely and what could you even accomplish if you did? You’re just going to have to trust the boss. She knows what she is doing,” Vorscha told him.
“Damnation,” Saeter cursed in reply. “I should be there, but I never guessed this would happen.”
The old scout didn’t make another move to climb down the lookout platform. He gazed towards the center of the battle and bit his bottom lip nervously. Geralhd and Vorscha also looked worried as Herad came face to face with her nemesis.
Blacknail didn’t know what to think. The mood of his human friends bothered him but he couldn’t see Herad losing. She was the most dangerous and ruthless human he had ever met! He doubted Werrick could beat her in a stabbing contest.
“So you’ve decided to show yourself at last, coward,” Herad yelled as she snarled in Werrick’s direction.
The other man didn’t immediately reply. There was quiet lull as he gazed in her direction. His steel helm hid his face and concealed what he was thinking.
Both bandit chieftains stood just out of striking range with their raised weapons in front of them. Violence could erupt without warning any second.
“I have nothing to fear from the likes of you,” Werrick eventually announced in reply.
His voice was deep and serene, without the smallest hint of fear or worry. Like Herad, he had a natural commanding presence. Both bandit chiefs were still in a way that suggested restrained power. As people fought and died around them, they remained motionless and sized each other up.
Herad moved first. She lunged forwards and the quiet that had overtaken the field ended. Werrick blocked her blade with a casual raise of his own, but before he could counterattack Herad had already slipped out of his range.
The bodyguards and companions of the band leaders rushed forward to support their bosses. They encircled their chiefs as they fought each other but they didn’t get too close. A bubble of space developed around the fighting Vessels that everyone else avoided.
Beyond the bodyguards, the other bandits were still fighting. Screams of pain and rage filled the air as violence was done and lives were ended.
As the masses fought around them, Herad and Werrick dueled. Under his heavy armor, Werrick moved slower than his opponent. Herad ducked in and out of his range while launching a series of feints.
However, the larger man easily kept her away from his vital points by holding his shield high and with the occasional lazy swing of his sword. He might have been slower but his fluid movements betrayed no lack of skill.
Again and again the pair of Vessels crossed blades. They moved with super human speed and their ferocity was unrelenting. Herad seemed unable to hurt Werrick but the advance of his troops had come to a complete halt.
From off to the side, a pair of wrestling bandits suddenly stumbled between the two chieftains. They were too preoccupied with fighting and too off balance to stay out of the way.
Herad saw them coming, lunged to the side, and kicked the closer man’s back. This sent them both careening straight towards Werrick. With a mighty swing of his shield, the Wolf battered them out of his way. There was a crunching sound as they hit the ground and rolled. Neither of them got up.
Herad took advantage of this momentary distraction to dash in from the other side and strike. Werrick’s blade slashed through the air to block her advance, but she ducked under it and stabbed towards his armpit.
The tip of Herad’s sword accelerated towards a gap between two steel plates under Werrick’s arm. All Werrick could do was take a frantic step back and turn away from the blow, but it was enough. Instead of hitting flesh, the blade impacted steel and slid away without drawing blood.
The heavy shield on Werrick’s other arm then swung around, and Herad had to dodge back out of the way. The two combatants separated and watched each other warily. Neither of them dropped their guard, and their respective bodyguards stepped forward to protect them.
“You can’t defeat me like this. You aren’t my equal, Black Snake,” Werrick shouted haughtily her way.
“This isn’t a duel, cur,” Herad replied scornfully. “I don’t need to beat you in a fancy fencing match.”
As she finished speaking, the bandit chieftain raised a hand above her head and signalled someone. Immediately, two volleys of arrows rose into the air.
Two groups of a dozen archers had stepped out of hiding from both sides of the entrance. The swarms of projectiles flew over all the fighting bandits’ heads and descended upon Werrick’s party from opposite directions.
Only one arrow shot towards Werrick though, and he easily blocked it with his shield. A few more ripped through the banner that one of the Wolf’s men was holding aloft, but most the buzzing projectiles were aimed at the nearby mage.
“See, the boss has a plan,” Vorscha observed with more than little relief.
No one answered her. They were fixated on the events unfolding before them.
The mage hurriedly raised an amulet. A rippling wave of force smashed into all the arrows coming at him from one direction and smashed them harmlessly aside. He quickly turned to block the ones from the other side as well, but he was a little too late.
His second blast hit the other flight of arrows and battered some of them away, but a lot of them had been too close to be affected properly. Two of the mage’s bodyguards fell as arrows pierced their bodies, but the others raised shields and blocked the rest of the projectiles.
“Ha,” the staff wielding mage laughed triumphantly. He was completely unharmed.
“That could have gone better,” Geralhd remarked unhappily.
That was when a lance of yellow energy slammed into the enemy mage from the front and hurled him off his feet. The men all around him were knocked aside as well; their bodies spasmed for several seconds on the ground before going still.
Mahedium stood off to the side of Herad. The staff in his hands was still glowing faintly yellow. Several of Herad’s bodyguards surrounded him, and had been keeping the fighting safely away from him.
As Mahedium slowly leveled the staff in Werrick’s direction, Herad began to laugh triumphantly. She pointed her blade towards Werrick as a mocking grin appeared on her lips.
“Victory is mine, you arrogant son of a whore!” she laughed. “I’m going to enjoy destroying you.”
The enemy chieftain took a step backwards. It was hard to see under his armor, but Werrick looked tense and anxious. He glanced back and forth between Herad and Mahedium, as the troops behind him froze in fear. They knew that the tide of battle had just made a sudden and dramatic turn against them.
“She’s got him!” Vorscha exclaimed breathlessly from the lookout platform. “We’ve got this in the bag!”
“It... definitely seems like it,” Saeter observed skeptically next to her. As usual, the old scout refused to give in to optimism or the equally repugnant feeling of happiness.
“There’s no way even a Vessel could dodge war magic at that range,” Geralhd remarked. “Vorscha’s right, we’ve won. Werrick is finished.”
“Mahedium may have him cornered but I won’t be counting the Wolf down until he’s actually dead,” Saeter replied. “If he escapes then he can just come back with a new mage and reinforcements.”
The fighting between both sides didn’t stop but it slowed a little as people noticed what had happened. Blacknail smirked from his perch atop the wall. He had known that Herad was going to win. She always did. That was why she was the chief!
Leisurely, Mahedium strolled forward. Everyone except for his guards backed away from him. Without the other mage around to check his power Mahedium was free to let loose against anyone that threatened him, and he had already demonstrated the lethal power he had at his disposal.
The mage kept his staff leveled directly at Werrick and its tip crackled with yellow energy. He avoided getting too close to anyone else as he moved towards the enemy leader.
“Are you going to try and run?” Herad taunted her opponent. “You might be able to make it.”
A wide exhilarant grin was plastered across her face. It made her seem almost mad, or at least madder than usual. Her dark eyes blazed with excitement as she watched her cornered enemy.
“I don’t think that would accomplish anything,” Werrick replied tonelessly as he gazed at Mahedium.
“Take that helmet off,” Herad commanded him. “I want to see your face.”
Werrick hesitated for a second, and then removed his steel helm. He tossed it aside and it rolled across the ground. His face was stern looking but handsome. The grey mane had been part his wolf helmet but he had fairly long brown hair of his own. He looked neither particularly young nor all that old.
There was a defiant glint in his eyes as he met Herad’s glare. She noticed it but it just made her chuckle. She liked breaking peoples' pride.
From his perch on the wall, Blacknail studied Werrick. He frowned as he realized the man didn’t seem all that scared. The hobgoblin considered himself an expert on human behaviour, especially their fears, and this man was too calm. Despite himself, Blacknail was intimidated and he didn’t like that at all.
“Ha, for years you’ve claimed to be the biggest and baddest bandit in all the North. Now look at you!” Herad gloated. “In the end you fell right into my trap!”
“Trap?” Werrick asked skeptically. “You were simply fortunate enough to take out my mage, and I’m not defeated yet.”
“As you made your way here I tested your forces several times and interrogated a few captives,” Herad explained smugly. “I quickly learned that you only had two mages with you, and during your first attack on these walls my mage defeated one of yours.”
“That’s far from any sort of grand strategy. It’s just basic intelligence,” Werrick remarked with noteworthy calm.
Blacknail studied the enemy leader closely and licked his lips uncertainly. He knew his humans, they were simple creatures at their core, and he sensed that something was off about this one. What was it?
“I knew that you would eventually have no choice but to join the attack yourself, and that you would need to bring your mage,” Herad explained smugly. “I knew that without him guarding your back you would be an easy target, and I was right. Here we are.”
“That’s certainly sounds like something a second-rate backstreet thug like you would come up with,” Werrick replied coldly. “It’s as cowardly as it is simple.”
“Petty insult will do you no good, Wolfy. Everything that was yours is about to become mine! I want you to reflect on that before I kill you,” Herad gloated.
“You have no idea what I possess, Black Snake. It’s truly sad that you think that killing me would elevate yourself,” Werrick replied. “You are as blind and ignorant as always, a mindless killer with delusions of greatness. You aren’t worthy of walking in my shadow.”
“We will see about that,” Herad replied angrily.
“Enough useless talk. Are you just going to stand there or am I going to have to make you use that thing?” Werrick asked as he turned towards Mahedium and levelled his sword at the mage.
“As you wish,” Mahedium remarked coolly as the energy around his staff grew more violent.
The air was thick with tension as everyone waited to see what was about to happen. Werrick didn’t flinch as Mahedium moved.
The mage then swung his staff around and blasted the guards behind himself. They went down as yellow energy arced between them.
“What?” Herad gasped as her eyes went wide with shock.
She froze in surprise, which gave Mahedium more than enough time to point his staff in her direction. She tried to dodge to the side as Mahedium unleashed a bolt of magic in her direction, but it clipped her side.
A cry of pain and complete disbelief escaped Herad’s lips as the energy hit her. A tremor worked its way through her body and then she collapsed bonelessly onto the ground. She didn’t get back up.
Werrick laughed. There was a mocking tone to it as his deep booming voice echoed out over the battlefield.