Chapter 86 - Missing Snow Lions

“HAHA!  WE DID IT!” shouted Actaeon as soon as he woke up on the way back to the Deathbringers’ tower.  The personal defeat he suffered at Leon’s hands blunted his celebration somewhat, but in the end, he couldn’t help but get swept up in the jubilant mood of the victorious Deathbringers.  The entire unit, including those who were incapacitated during the assault and those who were hesitant to join, watched with pride as the Snow Lions’ banner was placed at the base of their banner shrine.

“Now then!  We can celebrate our victory, but be wary of a Snow Lion counter-attack!  Cato, Licinius!  You two go and secure the door!” shouted Linus as the unit started to party.  The two second-tier nobles he called out quickly went to make sure their doors were closed and locked.  It wouldn’t prevent anyone from entering forever, but the Deathbringers wouldn’t be caught off guard as the Snow Lions had just been.

As the lower-tiered trainees got to partying, Actaeon was the only third-tier noble who fully joined them in mind and body, bringing most of the food and drinks from the top floor down to the first-tier common room so everyone could enjoy themselves.  However, as Actaeon and many of the other trainees started drinking and talking about their own personal achievements during the assault, Linus quietly made his way upstairs.  He was happy they had come out ahead of the Snow Lions, for sure, but Castor and Alphonsus were his friends.  Or Castor was, at least, and the petty vindictiveness shown by Gaius and Tiberias when they refused to leave before breaking all of the Snow Lions didn’t sit well with him.

‘Oh well, I’ll sleep on it and speak with them later.  Make them see that it wasn’t personal on my end, and any fights we have from here on out will be a little more honorable, I’ll make sure of it…’ he thought as sat down on a couch in the third-tier common room.  After about half an hour of restful thought, he decided to rejoin the party—though he wasn’t nearly so enthusiastic as Actaeon, preferring instead to sit in a corner quietly drinking and watching the others celebrate.

As for Gaius and Tiberias, well they weren’t very happy either.  The entire point of assaulting the Snow Lions, in their eyes, was to inflict harm on Leon.  Since Linus had forced them to leave before that could be done, then the purpose of going out hadn’t been fulfilled and they found their victory profoundly unsatisfying.

“Mark my words, Tiberias, I’m going to kill that savage one of these days.  The humiliation he’s caused me will only be erased with his blood,” Gaius muttered.

Tiberias, sitting next to him in the corner of the first-tier common room, sighed.  He was a lot calmer than Gaius was right now, appearing significantly more pensive than Gaius’ obviously glum expression.

“Sure you will.  But I for one am content to wait for now,” responded Tiberias quietly.

“What?!  Don’t you want to kill that barbarian just as much as I do?” asked Gaius in shock.

“Of course, and there still isn’t anything I’d rather do right now than boil that knuckle-dragger alive and feed his bones to my dogs.  But I can hardly do that here, now can I?”  Tiberias smiled serenely to Gaius, but it looked more devilish and terrifying to the other man.

“What, then, are you suggesting?” he asked Tiberias.

“Wait.  Sate yourself with this victory, then make another move in a year or two, when you have the weight of your family behind you.  Plus, you’ll have the time to think of a method that won’t harm your reputation or lead to being arrested for killing a member of the Royal Legions.  At least, that’s what I intend to do.  I can wait that long.”  Tiberias was forced to suppress a frown as he said this.  The image of Leon and Elise together was hard to banish, and he didn’t know what he would do if he were to see it again.  However, his noble father had always taught him the value of patience.  Thus, he decided to wait to act more decisively against Leon until he was out of the capital.

Gaius frowned, being about as satisfied with Tiberias’ plan as he was with the outcome of the assault.  Which is to say, not very.  That being said, he couldn’t fault the man for it; their options were indeed very limited while they were at the Knight Academy.

“Anyway,” continued Tiberias, “I should get going.  Your unit is celebrating, and I feel more than a little out of place…”

“Please, you’re welcome to stay as long as you like!” offered Gaius, hoping Tiberias would stay so that he wouldn’t have to mingle with the rest of the Deathbringers and pretend to be happy and exuberant.

Unfortunately for Gaius, Tiberias refused and left the tower after saying his farewells to Actaeon and Linus who had just come downstairs.

Reluctantly, Gaius put on a big smile and rejoined the party.

---

The mood at the Snow Lions’ tower was decidedly more subdued.  In fact, it was as depressing as anyone might expect it to be.  The few Snow Lions who managed to remain standing did their best moving through the various rooms collecting everyone who had fallen and laying them out in the first-tier common room.

It took an hour or so for everyone to wake up, and for those who had left earlier to come stumbling back, including Henry, Charles, Alain, and a livid Alphonsus.

“This is all your fault, you fucking barbarian!” was the first thing the third-tier noble shouted upon his return to the tower, while staring daggers at Leon.

Leon was about to respond, but Castor beat him to it.  “This isn’t his fault, Alphonsus.  It was the Deathbringers who made the decision, they are the ones to blame.”

“If he hadn’t angered Young Lord Tullius then this-“

“Quiet!”  Castor’s outburst immediately shut the complaining Alphonsus up.  The former glanced around at the rest of the Snow Lions.  Some held their heads in their hands, others nervously paced or sat slumped in a chair.  Most were staring at their third-tier mages, watching Alphonsus very publicly castigate Leon.  However, regardless of what they were doing, all of them had the same defeated look about them.  In fact, this started affecting their aura, giving the entire tower a depressing air, making everything seem flat and colorless.

Castor glared at Alphonsus, then looked over at Leon.  “Let’s take this upstairs.”  He then turned to Aemilius, the second-tier noble he had chosen to carry their banner, and said, “Get this place locked up as tight as you can.  You three, help him out.”

Aemilius and the three second-tier nobles beside him nodded to Castor and immediately got to work, though with significantly less gusto than they might have had Castor given them the same order several hours before.

Castor, Alphonsus, and Leon all slowly made their way back up to the third-tier common room to discuss what to do now, with Alphonsus barely containing himself the entire way.

As soon as the door to their common closed, Alphonsus instantly tried to shout at Leon again, but Castor silenced him with a glare.

“Al, this isn’t the time to start blaming anyone.  Besides, the ultimate decision to attack us came from the Deathbringers, so turn your vitriol to them if you truly need to vent that much.  However, our time would be better served figuring out how to deal with this, especially with the loss of our banner…”

Alphonsus glared at Leon again, which the latter ignored, but he didn’t start shouting again.  Instead, he said, “Well, obviously we need to go and get out banner back and avenge this humiliating defeat!”

“That would be… difficult…” muttered Leon.

“And what would you know, barbarian?!” Alphonsus couldn’t help but blurt out.  Castor gave him an exasperated look, reminding the other noble to hold his tongue.

“What’re you thinking?” Castor asked Leon.

“They’ll undoubtedly prepare for a counter-attack, and we wouldn’t catch them in separate groups like they did us.  Not to mention Tiberias might still be around.  We’d be fighting a losing battle.”

“We should still try!  Without our banner, we have nothing but shame and dishonor!” Alphonsus argued.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t get it back, just that we shouldn’t go gallivanting off right now without any preparations,” Leon responded.  “Besides, I’d say we have honor and… pride aplenty without that bolt of cloth.”

“And I don’t suppose you have any preparations in mind?” Alphonsus asked sarcastically with a derisive look on his face, Leon’s last comment flying right over his furious head.

“Al!  Let’s try and be respectful!  Leon is our comrade, a fellow third-tier mage!” shouted Castor, both having gotten fed up with Alphonsus’ attitude and caring about the banner far less than Alphonsus did.

“He’s a barbarian!” Alphonsus shouted back.

Just as Castor was about to continue arguing with Alphonsus, Leon spoke up, completely ignoring their heated exchange. 

“I actually do have an idea…”

---

The counter-attack that the nobles in the Deathbringers expected the Snow Lions to mount didn’t come.  However, as all the Deathbringers stayed in their tower the entire day celebrating their victory, and the Snow Lions obviously didn’t go anywhere else that day, none of the other units heard what had happened until dinnertime.  Less than five minutes after the Deathbringers’ arrival, though, the entire training battalion had heard the news.

Many of the nobles laughed somewhat good-naturedly at Castor and Alphonsus’ expense; this was just all a big game for them, after all.  The first-tier commoners were decidedly less good-natured about it, though, laughing and telling jokes about how terrible the Snow Lions were at fighting, among other far more vicious and demeaning insults.

Everyone waited for the Snow Lions to arrive, to see how defeated they appeared and to size them up.  Many of the nobles in the other units were even contemplating attacking the Snow Lions just as the Deathbringers had, but only to test their own trainees against the unit that now seemed weak and easily bullied.

Those waiting for them would be disappointed, though, when enough time passed for it to be obvious that the Snow Lions weren’t going to show up.  The areas they usually sat in remained empty for the entire meal.

“HAHA!  We beat them so badly they don’t even want to show their faces!  What cowards!” Actaeon shouted at one point.  Many of the nobles agreed, laughing along with the Deathbringers.

But there were a few that didn’t agree, and Valeria was one of them.  Leon didn’t come across as a coward to her, and she had fought against him enough times to be certain in her belief.

Alcander and Marcus were two more who didn’t think the Snow Lions were cowardly.  Castor and Alphonsus had never really stood out from the other third-tier mages, but to become a third-tier mage at such a young age suggested a boldness and fearlessness to Marcus that precluded cowardice.  Additionally, his own analysis of Leon from watching him duel Valeria brought him to the same conclusion she had reached.

Alcander’s certainty came more from a gut feeling.  He would never be able to explain it if anyone asked, but he didn’t think any less of the Snow Lions for not appearing.  In fact, he turned to Marcus and whispered, “I think we should attack the Snow Lions as well; I never did get that duel with Leon that I wanted…”

Marcus smiled and shook his head.  “Not yet, my friend.  You’ll get that duel, but we have four third-tier trainees in our unit.  Attacking another unit in such a weak position compared to us wouldn’t seem very sporting, would it?”

“Why would you care if something is sporting, Young Lord of House Aeneas?” Alcander asked, putting enough emphasis on Marcus’ title to remind the other noble about his family’s reputation.  House Aeneas was famous for their many effective if questionably honorable tactics they employed to repel the frequent raids by the giants in the Border Mountains to the east, so for Marcus to bring up sportsmanship struck Alcander as a little ironic.

“We’re at the Knight Academy competing with our fellow nobles of the Bull Kingdom.  What’s wrong with reserving a little honor in this case?”  Marcus smiled at Alcander so unnaturally that the latter knew to drop the matter right then, which he did, turning back to eating his food in silence.

The Snow Lions didn’t grace the dining hall with their presence for the entire night.  Few questioned it, though, seeing it as a natural response to such a humiliating defeat.

---

When the Instructors for the Snow Lions arrived at the tower to escort them to the dining hall, they didn’t really find anything odd about the tower.  It was a little quiet, but they didn’t notice the strange stillness in the air.

However, as soon as they entered the first-tier common room, it became obvious that the tower was empty.  However, the most striking thing in the eyes of the Senior Instructor was the empty shrine.  His eyes widened in alarm as he immediately hurried over to the shrine to inspect it, hoping that he was mistaken.

Of course, he wasn’t.  “WHERE THE FUCK IS THE BANNER?!” he roared, his voice echoing throughout the entire tower.  “EVERYONE GET THE FUCK OUT HERE RIGHT FUCKING NOW!”

Seeing how incensed the Senior Instructor was at the absent banner, the other two instructors began running through the first-tier bedrooms looking for any first-tier trainee to yell at.  All they found were deserted rooms.  They hurried back to report to the Senior Instructor, who furiously stormed through the rooms himself.

The Instructors didn’t search particularly thoroughly.  If they had, they might’ve noticed that even though some clothes were gone, as well as most of the training weapons, many personal effects were still there.  However, all they saw was what they didn’t see: The Snow Lions. 

The tower was devoid of life, the entire unit was simply gone.

---

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Chapter 87 - Absence

Chapter 85 - Assault on the Snow Lions II