Chapter 64 - Their Fortress

After half an hour of waiting in their groups and watching the last few stragglers arrive, the Legate of the Knight Academy exited the main administration building and walked over to the new trainees.  He brought an entourage of over fifty knights, and silence descended over the field upon his arrival.

“Welcome, everyone, to His Majesty’s Knight Academy!”  the Legate’s booming voice easily traveled over the entire field, and no one had any trouble hearing him.  “All the finest knights of the realm were trained here!  If you graduate, then you will have proven that you have what it takes to join their ranks!”

He paused to gesture towards the many knights at his side, and thirty of them stepped forward.

“These will be your combat instructors!  They are all anointed knights, and you will treat them with the respect they have earned!  If you don’t, then you will be removed from this Academy!”  He nodded towards the knight-instructors, and they spread out among the groups, arranging them into lines and formations.  Under the watchful eye of the Legate, not a single person made a fuss.

When the instructors were done, the trainees of each unit were arranged in long columns five people wide and about twenty long.  The units themselves were arranged like spokes on a wheel, with the Legate in the center.  The instructors were at the head of each unit, with the unit’s three third-tier trainees directly behind them.

Seeing they were done reassembling the trainees, the Legate continued.

“Now that you’re all a little more presentable, I want you to look around at the other training units!  These people will be your enemies for the next year!”

Most of the commoners didn’t know how most things worked in the Academy, so they were looking around in relative confusion.  In fact, only the higher nobles really had an inkling of what to expect while they were here and were giving each other competitive looks.  Alcander, in particular, had a smile that nearly split his face in half, and he was twitching like he could barely restrain himself from brawling right here.

“Your dorms will be your fortress!  When you’re not training or attending any classes you might sign up for, you must defend your fortress!  Right now, all your forts contain your unit banners!  These banners are the pride and glory of your unit, and their loss will not be tolerated!  On the other hand, capturing an enemy banner will be honored and rewarded!”

The commoners were starting to get it now.  This entire year will be one big competition between the units, and they will use the skills they learn to fight against the other trainees.  The biggest goal during this period will be the defense of their banners.

After the Legate paused for a moment to let his words sink in, he started speaking again with a blast of killing intent that caused everyone, including the instructors, to freeze in place and sent a chill down their spines.

“However!  If any of you use anything other than the provided training weapons, I will personally have you removed from this Academy!”  The Legate’s eyes flickered to Leon, Alcander, and several others who had brought weapons.  “Personal weapons are permitted to be worn, but they will not be used during your time here!  Does everyone understand?!”

Once everyone nodded in acknowledgment, the Legate simply said, “Good!  Knight-Instructors, they’re all yours!” and returned to the administration building with his knightly entourage in tow.

The Senior Instructor for the Snow Lions immediately turned and faced them.  “Our dorms are about three miles away.  You will follow me, and those who do not reach it in less than fifteen minutes will learn the true meaning of hell!”  The other Senior Instructors gave similar orders, and all the units ran off the field.

The Knight Academy occupied a significant portion of the land set aside for the Legion Headquarters, at the extreme west end of the capital.  To the west of the administration building, the direction that all ten units were vaguely running in, was a field half a mile wide and over two miles long.  Beyond the field was a dense and hilly forest, and beyond the forest was a series of rocky and barren artificial mountains created by an enormous number of earth mages.

That enormous field was the primary training grounds for the Knight Academy’s trainees to learn basic combat formations.  They were training to be knights, so they needed that room to practice maneuvers. 

The forest and mountains would also allow them to train in different tactics they were expected to encounter serving in the Legions; most bandits were based in forests, while Valemen were known to launch raids from the Frozen Mountains in the north and the Giants frequently came down from the Border Mountains to pillage the Eastern Territories.

The dorms had also been built within that forest, along with an extensive road network and mock villages to simulate slightly more urban combat.

As the Senior Instructor for the Snow Lions led the way, one of the other two instructors fell back to behind their trainees.  They didn’t require the trainees to keep running in that formation, but the other instructor would be there to make sure none of the trainees would get lost.

After they left the gates assembly field and got to the adjacent and much larger training field, Leon started suspecting that the Senior Instructor’s prior threats were directed solely at the first-tier mages, as he had set a pace that was just beyond the ability of most of the commoners in the unit.  Leon himself, the other two third-tier mages, and the twenty-five second-tier mages had zero trouble keeping up, but several of the first-tier mages had already been left in the dust before they had even reached the tree line.

By the time the unit had reached a dirt road at the edge of the forest, nearly half of the first-tier mages had fallen out.  Leon quickly checked behind him and was a little comforted when he saw Charles still running with the group, though he was clearly starting to struggle.  That struggle grew more pronounced as they pressed on, and more first-tier mages fell out from the unit.

It took about three minutes for the main unit to run a mile, and only about a dozen first-tier mages still accompanied the others.  Henry and Alain had just barely managed to keep pace, but now Charles began to fall behind.  He kept falling back a little, then gaining a little speed to catch back up, only to fall behind again.  Eventually, he fell out completely, unable to cover the distance he was losing.

Leon rolled his eyes.  Though it wasn’t too in-depth, he had been training Charles for the past three weeks.  As his informal instructor during that time, how would it look if Charles now couldn’t keep up?

To many confused and bewildered looks, Leon started falling back.  The Senior Instructor noticed this, but apart from a slight narrowing of the eyes, he didn’t react.  One of the other third-tier mages, a man with long black hair and such beauty as to be almost mistaken for a young woman, had to fight back laughter at Leon’s behavior.  The other third-tier mage, a brown-haired and blue-eyed man with only slightly above average looks, simply frowned in disapproval.

Leon fell all the way back to Charles to the increasing astonishment of the entire rest of the unit that could see it.

“You’d best get back up with the others, Charles,” Leon said in a calm and understated tone, but it carried a hint of killing intent that sent a chill down Charles’ spine.  He picked up speed but couldn’t sustain it for more than a few seconds and wound up right back where he had been.

“You’re not going to quit, are you?  Have the last few weeks been wasted?”  Leon’s cold voice spurred Charles onward, but that lasted only about as long as it had just a moment before.

As Charles fell back once again, Leon lost patience.  He didn’t say another word, but he unleashed his killing intent.  He controlled it as much as he could, not releasing so much as to paralyze anyone in fear, but the startlingly terrifying aura behind everyone pushed them onwards.

There were a few other first-tier mages who had begun to fall out from the unit, but with Leon behind them, they barely managed to keep pace.  Seeing this, the Senior Instructor allowed the tiny hint of a smile to appear on his lips, but it vanished as quickly as it had come.

The unit arrived at their dorms ten minutes after leaving the assembly field.  After Leon took a position behind the Snow Lions, not another trainee fell out from the group.

The building the unit now found themselves in front of was a round six-story tall stone tower topped with a dome of dark red ceramic tiles.  The walls of the first two floors had been painted a dark red to match the roof, while the tower’s stones above were still sparkling white.  The tower was covered with dozens of arched windows, indicating just how many rooms were contained within.

At the end of the dirt road they had been following was a set of arched double doors, easily ten feet tall.  The Senior Instructor wasted no time pushing them open and leading the unit inside, while the other instructor waited at the entrance for the stragglers.  Any trainees who didn’t make the time hack would be stopped at the doors.

Just inside was a simple hallway that lacked any decorations.  The floors were light grey stone, and the walls weren’t painted, though there were a few hanging magic lanterns keeping the place illuminated.  At the other end of the hall were three doorways.  One was another large set of arched double doors, while the other two were normal sized doors on the right and left.

The Senior Instructor led them through the double doors and into a large assembly chamber.  The chamber’s domed ceiling was two stories high, and it had been given the only decoration in the entire room, an incredibly realistic painting of an adult Snow Lion.  Next to the entrance were a pair of stairways that led to the upper floors, and around the wall were seven more doors.  There were also a number of chairs, tables, and couches, but little else.

In fact, the only other thing of note within the assembly chamber was what looked like a shrine in the very center of the chamber, with eight thin columns supporting a small dome, beneath which hung a black banner emblazoned with a white lion’s head.

The Senior Instructor finally allowed the trainees to catch their breath once they entered the chamber.  Charles nearly collapsed from exhaustion, as did all the other first-tier mages.  But, just because he was giving them some time to rest didn’t mean he wasn’t going to talk.

“Good job making it in time!  I’ll show you all around these dorms, then apart from when I show you all where the main dining area for the Academy is, the rest of the day will be yours!”  The Senior Instructor paused for a moment, allowing the first-tier mages to straighten up a little before continuing.

“This is the unit’s banner!  As with the Legions, the banner is the absolute representation of the unit’s pride and glory!  To lose it is to lose all of that pride and glory!  You will not lose this banner, do you understand?!”

“Yes, sir!”

“Yes!”

“Aye!”

Most of the trainees responded verbally, but a few, like Leon, only nodded.  Regardless, they had all acknowledged him, so the Senior Instructor moved on.

“This will be the common area for those of you in the first-tier!  The door directly opposite the entrance is the common baths and toilets!  The other doors lead to the main hallway, which gives access to the first-tier bedrooms!  I don’t really care which bed you choose, but the first two floors are for the first-tier mages!  Got it?”  After the first-tier mages acknowledged him, he continued.  “Good!  Now go choose your rooms!  Be back here at five for dinner!”  All the bedrooms had clocks, so the Senior Instructor wasn’t worried the trainees would lose track of time.

The first-tier trainees were a little taken aback at the abrupt dismissal, but after a moment of thought, they began shuffling towards their rooms.  Charles gave a quick nod to Leon in gratitude for keeping him going and left with Henry and Alain.

“Everyone else, follow me!”  The Senior Instructor led the second and third-tier trainees up the stairs directly to the third floor.  Another two-story high assembly chamber was found at the top of those stairs, but this one was much nicer than the one on the ground floor.  There was no banner, but the floor had carpets, the furniture was made of finer leather and wood, and the magic lanterns were a soft yellow and orange, rather than the harsher white downstairs.  On the other side of this chamber was the bathroom for the second-tier trainees.

The Senior Instructor dismissed the second-tier trainees with the same instructions he had given the first-tier trainees, then turned to the last three people, the three third-tier mages.

“You three, come with me.”

They were led to the top floor where the top of the stairs had been blocked by another set of double doors.  The Senior Instructor pushed them open and led them into the room beyond.

Leon and the two others found themselves in an opulent lounge, with plenty of expensive furniture all around the room and thick carpets over marble floors.  The walls were covered in carved reliefs depicting the Legions in battle and rather than a separate hallway leading to the bedrooms, the lounge was edged with a peristyle made of white granite columns.  Hanging from the ceiling was an elaborate silver chandelier adorned with diamonds and sapphires.  There was even a kitchen and small bar!

Again, the Senior Instructor repeated his instructions to the three, then left them to choose their rooms.  It was now time for him to return to the entrance to see how many trainees didn’t reach the dorms in his time limit.

There were only four rooms adjacent to the lounge, and without even looking at Leon, the other two third-tier trainees made for the two doors farthest from the stairs.

Leon didn’t care and walked towards the room to the right of the stairway doors.  This room was just as nice as the lounge, with white walls and furniture made of dark wood.  The large bed was on a slightly raised platform and covered in red furs and blankets, and there was a marble statue of a heroic looking knight in the center of the room.  Next to the door was a rack that had a dozen different weapons, all made with the same dull white metals and enchantments as the weapons from Leon’s combat test.  Off to the side was another door that led to a private bathroom that even had its own porcelain bath.

Leon smiled as he checked out his room.  He placed his pack down near the bed, then began looking through the drawers and dressers.  To his pleasant surprise, he found a large number of training clothes, all of which were white, brown, or green.  He supposed these clothes were given to him so he was guaranteed something to wear while attending the Academy.

His smile grew wider as he threw himself onto the bed.  It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the bed from the Prison Lord’s chambers, but it was infinitely more comfortable than the bed he had back in the Forest of Black and White.

‘So this is our fortress, huh?  I like it…’

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Chapter 65 - Tension in the Dining Hall

Chapter 63 - Results of the Test