Chapter 125 - FTX IX

Bonus chapter 1 of 3

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Several arrows whizzed past Leon’s head as he ducked down behind the watchtower’s waist-high wooden wall.  He didn’t stop to think about what was happening or who was responsible, he slammed his hand into the runic circle on the pinned sheet of spell paper on the wall and activated the alarm enchantment.  The trainee who had been manning the tower had been hit by several arrows and immediately stunned, so Leon then grabbed his bow and arrows and stood back up to return fire.

He took a quick look around before shooting his first arrow; he wanted to understand the situation before he began.  Three of the trainees in the eight watchtowers had been stunned, but the other five were still up and ready to fight.  None of the archers up on the cliff platforms had been hit, so they, too, began shooting down into the forest.

Leon then channeled magic into his eyes and stared out into the forest.  He saw dozens of enemy archers firing back at the camp, though a few were falling here and there from the Snow Lions’ return fire.  Leon quickly fired three arrows at the archers at the tree line, stunning two and paralyzing one of the last man’s arms.

And then, from the darkness, came the sounds of hundreds of advancing footsteps.  All the remaining allied trainees appeared, advancing toward the palisade’s gate in the south in one giant shield wall.  Everyone behind the front line had raised their shields above their heads in a turtle formation, so most arrows fired at them bounced off.  There were, however, a few unavoidable gaps that Leon was able to exploit and stun a few of the trainees in the formation.

“FIRE AT THE ARCHERS!” came a shout from one of the archer platforms.  Leon turned his head to see who it was and saw Castor gesturing at the tree line.  From the mouth of the cave, Snow Lions had started trickling out, some still pulling on armor or readying their weapons, and twenty Snow Lions had already arrived at the platforms while Leon wasn’t paying attention.

In response to Castor’s order, the trainees redirected their fire back to the tree line, eliminating the allied archers one after the other.  Leon, however, judged the advancing shield wall to be the greater threat.  Castor had redirected the arrow fire because that’s where it would be the most effective, but Leon was accurate enough with the bow that he could still hit the trainees in the shield wall through the unavoidable gaps between the shields.

Besides, Leon was eagerly waiting for the third-tier allied nobles to jump over the palisade, where they would make themselves vulnerable to his arrow fire, so it was with the advancing turtle formation that he kept his attention.

‘Come on,’ he thought, ‘You’re going to make that jump, you have to in order to open the gate…

But, the shield wall made it all the way to the gate—only taking minor casualties along the way—and no one attempted to jump over the palisade.  Instead, the trainees in the front ranks of the shield wall split up to allow three men to come forward under the cover of their shields and begin attacking the sealed gate, one of these men being Alcander.  The third-tier noble swung his greatax with all of his prodigious strength and weight behind it, but it hardly put a dent into the gate.  Neither of the other two third-tier trainees had any more effect than he did.

But Leon couldn’t see what was happening on the other side of the gate.  He only heard the sounds of something hitting the gate incredibly hard, shaking the entire palisade.  And the gate held, or rather, the enchantments he carved into it held.

Behind him, in the palisade’s courtyard, fifty Snow Lions had assembled, with Alphonsus at the front.  Turning his attention away from the allies at the first gate, Leon jumped down from the watchtower to join this assembled force, leaving three first-tier trainees to take his place in the tower.  If the allied third-tier nobles weren’t going to come to him, he’d go to them.

“We put a lot of work into our defenses.  Let’s see how well they’re holding up,” Leon said to Alphonsus.

“Let’s,” agreed Alphonsus.  The two third-tier trainees led the other fifty Snow Lions out of the inner gate into the zone between the two palisades.  There, Alphonsus set up a strong shield wall ten men long and five men deep while Leon darted up the closest outer watchtower to the gate.  From his new position, Leon was in greater danger from the allied archers in the forest, but he was able to inflict higher casualties on their friends in the attacking shield wall.

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“RARRGH!” Alcander shouted and he swung his ax into the gate again.  It had taken him and two third-tier nobles from the Steel Century a great many strikes, but they were finally beginning to make some headway; the gate had started to splinter and bend.

Then, arrows began to hit those in the shield wall through tiny gaps at the edges of the shield wall.  Marcus, a little further back than Alcander but still in the few front ranks, noticed the sudden increase in casualty rate.  The allies had barely taken any casualties since taking cover at the foot of the palisade since only a single archer platform and the closest watchtower could even see them from there.  Plus, Marcus hadn’t thought that the shield wall would still be targeted after hearing Castor order the Snow Lions to shoot at the allied archers instead.

But, when he saw Leon in the watchtower with a bow and a sly grin, Marcus wondered no longer about where the increase in casualties had come from.  Leon was in the tower firing arrows exceptionally rapidly, and from a distance of barely twenty-five feet, he couldn’t miss.

Marcus grabbed several of the second-tier trainees around him and pointed directly to Leon.

“Over there!” he said, “Shoot him!”

The second-tier trainees quickly set their shields down and reached for their bows.  Marcus did the same thing, but as soon as he unlimbered his bow and turned his eyes back to the tower, he saw Leon staring right back at him, with an arrow nocked, drawn, and aimed his way.  Marcus didn’t even have time to curse before the arrow hit him in the weakest part of his armor, the area directly below the shoulder plates.

Marcus was knocked to the ground and thoroughly discombobulated, but still conscious.  Leon’s next two arrows that hit the same place changed that, stunning the third-tier noble and removing him from play.

By then, the second-tier trainees had started to shoot back at Leon, forcing him to take cover in the tower.  However, with their shields no longer a part of their formation, they had made themselves vulnerable.  Castor, seeing this from his archer platform, quickly ordered the Snow Lions around him to take advantage.

Arrows rained down upon the allied shield wall, stunning the trainees who had pinned Leon and opening up others in the shield wall to more arrow fire.  But just as the shield wall was starting to disintegrate from that hole, Alcander finally managed to bash down the gate, the enchantments Leon had made that held the gate together losing the last of their power with one last mighty swing of Alcander’s ax.

“WE’RE IN!” the third-tier noble roared as he charged into the opening, stepping on the fallen gate as he did so.

And as soon as he turned to charge to the next gate, he came face-to-face with the Snow Lion shield wall.  But that didn’t slow him down in the slightest; he only grinned like a battle-hungry madman and ran forward, winding up a terrifying blow from his ax as he did so.  Just as he was about to bring his ax down upon the Snow Lions in the front line, an arrow fired by Leon in the tower hit him in the thigh, paralyzing his entire left leg and bringing his charge to a premature end.

Alcander still tried to limp forward and attack, but a quick swing of Alphonsus’ sword put a stop to that and knocked the nobleman unconscious.

But, there were other third-tier trainees able to take control of the allies; Gaius moved up into the front ranks and led them in their assault on the assembled Snow Lions.  Both shield walls crashed into each other, pushing and shoving and trying everything they could to break the other’s formation.  The problem the allies had, though, was that the Snow Lions only had to brace themselves and hold against the assault while the archers in the towers and platforms slowly cleaned up the allies.

And that’s exactly what happened.  There were remarkably few casualties at the battle line where the two front ranks of the formations met, as both shield walls were well put together; instead, the majority of casualties sustained were from archers exploiting gaps in the shields.

The allies couldn’t get the Snow Lions to move, and with their mounting losses, they finally reached their breaking point.  Valeria had kept an eye on their archers at the tree line and noticed that they had all either been pinned down or otherwise incapacitated.  The shield formation was without support and losing trainees at a faster and faster rate as gaps in the shields widened with every casualty sustained.

Eventually, she forced her way through the formation to Gaius and shouted, “We’re not going to win!  We need to retreat!”

Gaius took her completely seriously, but he still didn’t like the idea of running away.  Despite this, he clenched his teeth and nodded to her.  Then, he shouted, “PULL BACK!  RETURN TO THE TREE LINE!”

Gaius had to repeat himself several times, but he and Valeria managed to keep their people from breaking formation completely and made an orderly retreat.

The Snow Lions shot a few more token arrows after them once they had left the palisade, but Castor ordered his unit to let them go.  He didn’t see a lot of point in being so vindictive toward his fellow nobles and countrymen.  Had this been an actual battlefield, though, it would’ve much different.

After several minutes, Gaius came forward alone.

“Wait!” Castor shouted as the archers prepared to shoot him.  “Let’s hear him out!”

Gaius nodded to Castor, acknowledging the respect he was shown, as well as shocking Castor with his significantly more noble bearing than he had the last time the two units had much interaction.

“We…” began Gaius, but the words he had to say next caught in his throat.  He took a deep breath, straightened himself up with all the dignity he could muster, and continued, “… acknowledge our defeat.  We request permission to collect our fallen!”

It hurt Gaius to say those words, but he kept himself calm.  For all of his attempts to mend his reputation and act with more nobility than he had at the beginning of the training cycle, he still hated losing.

Castor granted his request.  There really wasn’t any reason not to, but sometimes a unit would try to take prisoners.  They’d quickly find their supplies strained if they took too many, so most units would decide to show their opponent the courtesy of taking their stunned trainees back with them instead.

While the allies began to collect their comrades, Gaius walked back to where the rest of the third-tier nobles were.  He, Valeria, Asiya, and Linus were the only unit leaders who remained on their feet.  One of Actaeon’s legs had been paralyzed, while all four of the Steel Century’s third-tier trainees had been stunned.

“Thanks for doing that,” said Linus.

“Yeah, it’s never easy to admit defeat, even if it’s to get our people back,” added Asiya.

“Don’t mention it,” Gaius responded evenly.  “I think I’m actually getting used to it, anyway.”

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That battle was the beginning of a month-long stalemate between the three allied units and the Snow Lions.  The Snow Lions couldn’t permanently drive off the allies, while the allies couldn’t penetrate the Lions’ defenses.

Marcus tried to lead attacks on the Snow Lions’ supplies that came in every week, but the Snow Lions managed to either fight him off or steal the allies’ supplies in revenge.  The allies started learning more about the mountains’ layout during that month, but they still couldn’t locate the hidden paths the Snow Lions knew about to constantly ambush them when they tried to launch sneak attacks on the camp.

This state of affairs was grueling for the allies, especially with the end of the FTX approaching and not a single banner had been seized or reclaimed.  It was subtle, but desperation had started to set in, with trainees that were a little harder to control than usual.

The mood in the Snow Lions’ camp, however, was exactly the opposite.  Most of the Lions felt exhausted from the constant battling with an enemy with superior numbers, yet energized from their constant victories—or at least, their constant avoidance of loss.

But, all that changed when, with only two weeks left until the FTX came to an end, the allies picked up some new friends.

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Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:

Efflorescence

Chris Rose

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Zachary Spencer

I Dewa Bagus

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Chapter 126 - FTX X

Chapter 124 - FTX VIII