“Good luck!” Castor said to Leon while giving him a respectful nod, which Leon returned. Castor then led his squad back to the caves to wait for his turn to go on the offense.
Once they had all gone and Leon’s squad was left alone, Henry couldn’t resist saying, “Ahhh, that was awesome!”
“Indeed, that was quite exhilarating,” added Alain. No one really disagreed with them, as there were few things more exciting than a victory that came at little cost.
Hostilius, however, gave the two of them a slightly reproachful glare when they said it out loud. He preferred that they revel in their victory in quiet dignity, as he was doing. But, neither Henry nor Alain saw him, as he was too quietly dignified to say anything, especially since Leon didn’t seem to mind their celebratory mood.
Leon gave them a few more minutes to enjoy their victory, but then it was time to get to work.
“Listen up!” he said, quieting everyone down. “My team will stick with close-range combat. Hostilius, your team will join Obellius’ on ranged duty, at least for the first few seconds of battle. Fire off two shots, then reinforce my team at close range. Obellius, I want your team to keep firing your arrows as long as is practical and stay behind us. Everyone got it?”
No one questioned him. His last plan had seen them through a battle completely unscathed, after all.
“Good. Then keep quiet and alert. I don’t want us to get taken off-guard like Castor was.”
Leon, Charles, Matthew, and Martin took up positions watching the tree line while the other six readied their bows and stood a few feet behind them, close enough for their positions to be reversed at the drop of a hat if need be.
But, their caution went largely unrewarded. It took Alphonsus nearly twenty minutes to arrive, a long enough time for Leon’s squad to grow restless and impatient. And when the attacking squad did arrive, Alphonsus didn’t even try coming up with a tactic or strategy to win; his squad sauntered out of the forest and seemed almost surprised to see Leon’s squad facing them.
Alphonsus wasn’t particularly shocked. He probably knew where Leon’s squad was, he just neglected to tell his squad, leaving them a little taken aback and hurriedly drawing their swords.
“There they are! Let’s get them!” shouted Alphonsus, causing Leon to sigh and gesture to his archers, wordlessly telling them to open fire.
Six arrows whistled through the air and immediately knocked three of Alphonsus’ first-tier trainees unconscious. Leon’s squad fired another salvo before Alphonsus’ squad was able to cover the distance between them, stunning one more first-tier trainee and a second-tier trainee.
Things proceeded quickly at that point. Leon tied down Alphonsus while Hostilius took on the one remaining second-tier trainee. Leon’s first-tier trainees made quick work of their numerically inferior opponents, which then allowed them to gang up on the second-tier trainee. By the time he was taken down, Leon had already disarmed Alphonsus and had the noble at his mercy. Again, Leon’s squad had taken no casualties, though it hardly felt like an accomplishment after Alphonsus’ rather uninspiring display.
Alphonsus had been unable to do anything other than grit his teeth and keep himself from shouting in anger. He was barely able to maintain his dignity as a noble and keep his mouth shut. His team might’ve fared better had he actually given them orders other than just ‘let’s get them’, but that was a moot point with the battle already over.
“Do you yield?” Leon asked, his training blade at Alphonsus’ throat.
Alphonsus remained silent, his eyes burning with shame and his jaw clenched tight. Leon gave a tiny shrug and dramatically pulled his sword back in as obvious a preparation for a final strike as he could manage to display.
“Fine!” shouted Alphonsus just as Leon’s blade started its descent. “I… yield.”
To Leon, it sounded like Alphonsus could barely spit out those words, but that didn’t change the fact that the words were indeed said. He lowered his sword, while the Instructors stepped out from the shadows of the forest.
Again, there wasn’t much to say with Leon, given none of his squad members were knocked unconscious.
The same couldn’t be said of Alphonsus, who received a much longer lecture about the importance of not showing his position until the last possible moment and actually using the bows his squad had brought along.
Leon’s squad started making their way back to the camp.
“The Ancestors have granted us two great victories today,” said Obellius.
His statement didn’t sit well with Hostilius, though, who glared at him and grumbled, “The Ancestors didn’t do a damn thing. We did this ourselves.”
“Really?” asked Henry indignantly. “Do you have to be that guy?”
“Watch it, peasant,” responded Hostilius.
“How about all of you cut that shit out right now?” Leon said with only a hint of killing intent, but a hint was all that was needed to shut them up.
“We just performed admirably, let’s not start going for each other’s throats, yeah?” added Bohemond.
“Whatever…” growled Hostilius, causing Leon to frown. He’d picked Hostilius to be in his squad because the second-tier noble had stood out from the rest of the second-tier trainees during the first-aid course and the previous week, not for his personality. In truth, though, Leon hadn’t heard him speak that much and simply took that to mean the noble was the quiet and polite sort.
He started to regret the decision as Hostilius continued shooting glares at Obellius, who seemed deliberately ignoring the other man.
The next few minutes proceeded in tense silence while the squad walked back to the other side of the gorge. When they arrived, Leon sent them to continue practicing their archery; it was his use of the skill—as well as Castor and Alphonsus’ lack thereof—that had given him such an advantage during the two exercises, and he wasn’t about to let that advantage lapse.
But, they had done quite well, so he didn’t mind when the first-tier trainees started slacking a bit.
Leon himself decided to get in some time training while waiting for Castor’s squad to run through the patrol course. He wasn’t particularly in the mood for meditation, so he simply practiced his fighting style while releasing magic into his blood. He didn’t really need the practice; he would’ve gotten the same result had he meditated, but he just wanted to keep moving his body.
After about forty minutes, the other two third-tier trainees returned, and the squads reformed with second-tier mages in charge. It was now their turn to run through the patrol course.
While those squads were out doing so, it was expected by the Instructors that the third-tier mages would supervise the supplemental training of the rest of the Snow Lions. This mostly just meant they had to keep the rest of the trainees practicing their archery, a task they didn’t really need to devote much attention to. Instead, the three young mages took to chatting amongst themselves.
Or at least, Castor did, while Leon mostly listened and Alphonsus rather pointedly stared disinterestedly into the distance.
“… but the way you emphasized your archers was truly eye-opening! I’d never even considered it!” said Castor, speaking quietly enough that Leon could hear him, but the nearby trainees couldn’t.
“Using the all available tools is only common sense…” responded Leon.
“Yeah… I suppose it is…” said Castor with some embarrassment. “Well, the sword and spear were always emphasized in my training growing up, I guess that’s all I really think about… Regardless, I’m thinking that we should start talking about how to regain our banner.”
This last sentence got both Leon and Alphonsus’ attention. It had been more than two weeks since their loss to the Deathbringers, and both third-tier mages were itching for some payback. Alphonsus, especially, as he had the impression that the unit might return to their tower if they manage to reclaim their banner.
“… What’re you thinking?” asked Leon.
“Well, we shouldn’t attack this week. I’d like our second-tier trainees to get a few more runs of this training course before making our move. Plus, I want everyone to get properly used to their bows because I can guarantee that the other units aren’t putting nearly so much emphasis on archery as we are.”
“Reasonable,” Leon said with an understanding nod. “Plus, the longer we wait, the more the Deathbringers will lower their guard.”
“Right. But, we should also prepare for the possibility that they’ll have the door under guard anyway. Maybe we ought to scout them out a bit beforehand?”
“Not a bad idea. If possible, we should attack at night and move as quietly as we can. If we can retrieve our banner with as few Deathbringers knowing as is feasible, all the better.”
Alphonsus narrowed his eyes in displeasure at hearing Leon’s suggestion. “What? We need to reclaim our lost honor! How would a night attack accomplish that?! We should attack them head-on, so they know who beat them!”
“Maximize our chances of success,” Leon reasoned.
“I’m liking the idea of a night attack,” Castor added. “But, we’ll definitely need some extra time practicing before we’re ready, I’d say.”
“A little extra practice never hurt anyone,” responded Leon.
Alphonsus turned away from the two of them with a faintly disgusted look, leaving them to their plans and strategies. He was truly regretting his decision to enroll in the Knight Academy. He just wanted to get away from that disgusting cave and go home to the Southern Territories. He’d already resolved to only stay in the Royal Legions as long as necessary for his knighthood.
“We should also get our squads locked in. Having semi-independent squads who can follow the plan and also take the initiative would be incredibly valuable,” added Leon, ignoring the quietly sulking Alphonsus.
“Yes, let’s get that squared away tonight. Do you have any suggestions for squad leaders? I have a few myself…” said Castor. He didn’t specifically ask the question to Leon, but given how little both he and Alphonsus were paying attention to each other, it was clear he didn’t expect Alphonsus to offer any names. And that was fine by him; it allowed him to stack another supporter or two of his own into leadership positions.
Leon and Castor continued deliberating over who to make squad leaders for another half hour. Leon only wanted both Hostilius and Obellius to lead squads of their own, to avoid having them in a squad with each other. Since he was only asking for two out of the seven spots, Castor happily accepted. The third-tier noble managed to secure four of the other squad leader positions for his own followers, Leon only stepping in when he tried to appoint a second-tier noble who had failed rather miserably in the first-aid training course. The two ended up compromising with another second-tier noble who wasn’t affiliated with any of the three third-tier mages.
Since he was too busy sulking and feeling sorry for himself, none of Alphonsus’ people received a squad of their own.
Leon also made plans to check out the Deathbringers’ tower after his first class. The unit would still be busy with their second class during that time so the banner wouldn’t be present, but he could still get the lay of the land around the tower and see if it matched the Snow Lions’ tower in layout.
To complete their plans, they ended up asking the Senior Instructor several hours later if he would release the restrictions placed on the trainees forcing them to lose their weekend privileges if they retrieved their banner. He reminded them that he could only implement those restrictions because they had lost their banner, and if it were to be retrieved then the restrictions would have to be lifted whether he liked it or not.
Once their plans were complete, Leon and Castor announced to the entire unit their decision to retrieve the banner and how the trainees would be able to re-enter the city on weekends if they accomplished it. Every Snow Lion was energized by the announcement, throwing themselves back into their training to try to guarantee their success. Even Alphonsus’ spirits were slightly raised, even if it was only due to the prospect of getting back into the city and out of the caves for a few hours.
Leon and Castor decided that the day of their raid would be a week from Friday, eleven days from then.
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