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The second week of Small Unit Tactics started off with a pleasant surprise. When Leon’s group had gone to get Monday’s breakfast, they found a few extra boxes which contained enough bows and training arrows to equip the rest of the Snow Lions!
Leon passed out the new bows with a slight smile on his face as soon as his group returned to the gorge, not even waiting until after breakfast.
Starting that week, he and those few other Snow Lions who accompanied him to afternoon classes had made skipping their second class of the afternoon official, something that Leon had already been doing. Leon didn’t truly care about his reading class as he had only chosen it to fill time in a quiet way. The other trainees had done similar, taking the class that was more important to them first, so losing that second class wasn’t that big of a loss.
They spent that extra time training with the rest of the unit, running extra squad exercises. The Snow Lions had practiced patrols enough that the Instructors saw fit to add in a few new elements to their training, those being a squad-on-squad battle.
Basically, one squad would post up on the other side of the gorge, while the other would launch an attack on them. The Instructors had the third-tier mages lead a few squads themselves, rather than assist with running the exercise. Of course, they would only fight against other squads with third-tier trainees in them, otherwise there would be little point; they’d steamroll any other squad of comparable size that lacked a third-tier mage.
To that end, the third-tier mages were allowed to choose the members of their own squads. Alphonsus and Castor both chose a pair of second-tier mages whose families served theirs, but that was expected and so surprised no one. In this respect, Leon actually had more freedom. His lack of connections in the nobility meant he could essentially choose any other second-tier trainee that had stood out to him that wasn’t already on Alphonsus’ or Castor’s side.
In the end, he chose Hostilius, the son of a Praetorian, and an eighteen-year-old man named Obellius. What threw Leon for a bit of a loop was finding out that Obellius wasn’t actually noble, as Leon had initially assumed when first learning everyone’s faces and names in the first few days of the training cycle.
Instead, Obellius was the son of a wealthy merchant from the southern coast of the Bull Kingdom. His father had spent a considerable portion of his fortune to make sure Obellius had the finest training money could buy and even shelled out the silver for an expensive potion that was of enormous help when Obellius ascended to the second-tier.
Unfortunately, this also meant that Obellius needed substantially more time adjusting to his new second-tier strength, but it also made him one of the strongest second-tier mages in the Snow Lions that wasn’t already affiliated with Castor or Alphonsus.
Leon filled out the rest of his ten-man squad with the expected five of Henry, Alain, Charles, Bohemond, and Matthew, plus two more first-tier trainees named Theoderic and Martin.
On Monday morning, Leon’s squad was the first to undertake the training exercise as the patrolling squad, while Castor’s squad would defend a position. After they were done, regardless of who won, Leon’s squad would take the defense while Alphonsus would attack. Then Alphonsus would defend while Castor attacked.
And then the second-tier units would cycle through in a similar fashion.
“Everyone ready?” Leon asked, looking to the nine men at his right and left as they prepared to enter the forest in the gorge. One he got an acknowledgment from everyone, he said, “Then let’s go.”
The squad entered the forest in a loose wedge, with Leon leading the way and the others in a rough row behind him. Hostilius and Obellius were on both ends of the line, securing the flanks and making sure no one broke formation.
The squad moved with about five to six feet between each member, allowing them to both cover plenty of ground and to form a defensive line if they felt the need.
But there wasn’t a need; they came within sight of Castor and his squad after about ten uneventful minutes of trudging through the forest. Fortunately, Castor’s squad had moved out about twenty minutes beforehand and seemed to have gotten a bit lax and inattentive in that time. Consequently, they didn’t see Leon’s squad approach, giving the attackers time to consider their options.
Leon silently halted his squad behind a line of shrubs big enough to shield them from view.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Leon whispered, “Obellius, Theoderic, and Henry, you three will be our archers. You will make our first move by shooting as many of Castor’s guys as you can. Try and target the second-tier mages if possible. You can get set up over there.” Leon indicated a small cluster of trees to the side of the shrubs which had a decent line of sight on their target clearing.
When the three Leon singled out nodded back to him, he continued. “Hostilius, you’ll take Alain and Bohemond and fall back a few hundred feet, then swing left and hit them in the flank after the battle begins. Try to stay hidden until things kick off, got it?”
“Got it,” Hostilius muttered. He, Alain, and Bohemond silently ran back into the forest for a ways, then swung left relative to the clearing. Soon, they disappeared from view.
Leon had specifically built his squad for a maneuver just like this. Hostilius had proven himself quite competent in the last two weeks, so Leon put him in charge of the flanking action and gave him two of his strongest first-tier trainees. Obellius, meanwhile, was one of the more proficient archers among the Snow Lions. Leon figured he must have picked up his skills in the swampy and densely forested Southern Territories, which had a rich hunting culture among its upper-class residents. Just like Hostilius, Leon put Obellius in charge of two of his better archers.
“And that leaves you three,” Leon said to Charles, Matthew, and Martin. “You’re with me. We’ll form a slanted line and try to keep Castor’s guys in range of the archers and have their backs exposed to Hostilius.”
“We got this,” Charles said with a confident smile.
“Without a doubt,” added Matthew.
Martin simply nodded.
“Then let’s get to it,” said Leon, his face breaking out into a smile of his own.
The four quietly walked around the shrubs they’d been crouched behind and started moving toward Castor’s still unaware squad. They weren’t too far away, only two hundred feet at the most. But, they were paying so little attention that it wasn’t until Leon made a gesture to his archers and the first three arrows fell upon them that they noticed Leon’s squad had arrived.
The armor the trainees were wearing did their jobs; the first three arrows didn’t do much damage and one even bounced right off the second-tier mage’s scale armor on impact.
“Those arrows came from over there!” shouted the second-tier mage who had been struck in the head. It was easy for him to identify where the arrow had come from and made even more so when Leon and his three guys stood up and started slowly walking toward the clearing.
“Don’t just stand there!” shouted Castor, “Get into line and go attack them!” Castor’s men had their own bows, but they were slung over their shoulders, so he figured it would be better to get his people moving rather than stop and switch weapons. The next three arrows from Leon’s squad showed him just how bad of an idea that was, stunning two first-tier trainees unconscious and leaving Aemilius—who, to the surprise of no one, Castor had put into his squad—with a stunned left arm. Fortunately for him, he was right-handed, but the arrows didn’t stop. In addition, Leon and his three squadmates had only moved about forty to fifty feet in their direction then stood and waited. It was clear Leon had no intention of giving Castor the straight fight the noble expected.
“You two! Get out your bows and shoot at them!” Castor shouted at the two nearest first-tier trainees. “Everyone else! Get in line!”
The eight remaining men in his squad scrambled into motion, with six forming a battle line and advancing toward Leon, while the two Castor shouted at hurriedly trying to pull their bows off their shoulders.
Three more arrows hurtled out of the trees, stunning another of Castor’s first-tier trainees.
Castor scowled, then started charging at Leon. It was a short enough distance that he didn’t need to wait for the rest of his squad, so he bolted out of the clearing and directly at Leon.
“Hrrah!” he shouted as he stabbed forward at Leon with his arming sword. Leon dodged it with ease, then countered with an upward slash. His attack missed, and the two third-tier mages locked each other down with a series of lightning-fast attacks, feints, and counter-attacks.
The others in Castor’s squad caught up in only a few seconds, and to them, it looked like it would be an easy win. After all, they only had to take out the three first-tier mages at Leon’s side, then eliminate his archers. However, they were so taken with the enemy in front of them that they completely missed Hostilius, Alain, and Bohemond who seemed to appear from nowhere right behind them.
In fact, to Castor’s squad, the three of them had appeared so suddenly that two first-tier trainees were stunned by Alain and Bohemond before they could even react, while the second-tier mage Hostilius targeted only stayed standing thanks to his armor absorbing Hostilius’ blow.
In that moment of panic that arose from being attacked from behind, Matthew, Martin, and Charles darted out from their positions and joined the battle at Leon’s command. As they did so, the three archers behind them let loose another salvo, stunning the two archers Castor had left behind and hitting Aemilius in the thigh. This additional paralyzed limb left the second-tier mage vulnerable enough that he was dispatched by Charles and Matthew in short order.
With the advantage in both numbers and position, the last two of Castor’s first-tier trainees fell after a brutally short skirmish and left Castor’s last second-tier mage alone. But that wasn’t to say he was helpless; in fact, Hostilius seemed a little overwhelmed by the man, to the point that he could barely get a hit on him after the first surprise attack.
But, Hostilius wasn’t alone. He was now backed up by five first-tier trainees, who managed to use the second-tier mage’s targeting of Hostilius to their advantage and struck him from all sides in the middle of one of his swings.
Despite his duel with Leon, Castor was able to see his squad fall. He knew he had just lost and there wasn’t much he could do about it. So, he dodged one more of Leon’s strikes by the skin of his teeth and started lowering his sword in surrender.
However, Leon wasn’t the type to stop and wait for his opponent in a fight, so all he saw was Castor lowering his guard. Leon immediately lunged forward and stabbed the other man in the chest with his training sword. Castor’s armor did its job, though, and he remained on his feet with both eyes open.
“Relax, Leon, I’m beaten!” he shouted before Leon could attack again. Fortunately, this got through to Leon who managed to stop himself despite being halfway through a follow-up strike.
With Castor’s surrender, Leon’s squad had won, not that there was any kind of prize other than bragging rights. The trainees began picking up and carrying the unconscious Snow Lions back to the clearing, where the three instructors had appeared. They had been watching both squads from a distance and had gotten a rough view of both sides’ strengths and weaknesses.
The Instructors made their way to clearing and began attending to the stunned trainees, whipping out spells that could wake them up. Thanks to their armor, none of them had been hit in vital areas like the spine, so they were easily revived. While they woke themselves up, the Senior Instructor pulled Castor aside so they could have a chat about what he could improve for the next training exercise, such as being more attentive, organized, and to always have at least two or three archers at the ready. He would have a similar talk with Leon when they were done, though there wouldn’t be as much criticism given he hadn’t taken a single casualty.
While the Senior Instructor and Castor were speaking, Leon was walking around the clearing and checking out the location. After all, it was his turn to be on the defense, while Alphonsus and his squad would attack.
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