Breakfast the next morning was inexplicably tense. Most of the units were happily talking amongst themselves and making plans for what they would do with their time off.
The Deathbringers were the only exception. They seemed incredibly subdued, even more so than after the ambush Leon carried out on their people.
Tiberias was the only trainee not in the Deathbringers who knew the reason for this strange behavior: the nobles in their unit had forced the other trainees to give up their time off and join their planned assault on the Snow Lions.
Many of the Deathbringers didn’t actually require any convincing. Tensions between them and the Snow Lions had only grown in the past two weeks, and they yearned to take their mounting frustrations out on their rival unit. Other Deathbringers didn’t want anything to do with the assault, as it was perceived as a reaction to the public dispute between Gaius and Leon, and those first-tier trainees were loath to get involved in a fight between the third-tier trainees.
But, they had been left with little choice with both the nobles and the first-tier trainees who had already agreed to join the assault putting pressure on them to join too.
The other nine units were too preoccupied with their weekend plans to notice how strangely the Deathbringers were acting, but they were still subtly affected by their depressing aura. This unpleasant atmosphere drove all of the trainees to eat remarkably fast in order to leave quickly.
Like the rest of the units, the Deathbringers also left quickly, hurrying back to their tower where their Senior Instructor formally dismissed them.
“Let’s fucking go!” shouted Gaius, spurring his unit to get their training weapons and everything they needed to attack the Snow Lions before their instructors had even left the tower.
The Senior Instructor stopped before he made it to the door and turned to face Gaius. “What are you doing?” he asked.
Gaius smiled at him and responded, “We’re getting our revenge on the Snow Lions. We’re going to attack their tower and seize their banner.”
“Hmmm.” The Senior Instructor went quiet as he thought for a moment, after which he simply said, “Don’t fuck this up,” and walked out of the door.
“Not a damn chance…” Gaius whispered to himself.
The Deathbringers were ready to go barely five minutes after being dismissed, and Gaius led them out of the tower and toward their designated meeting place to wait for Tiberias. Since the Deathbringers and Snow Lions’ towers were relatively close, it was assumed that the Deathbringers would arrive before Tiberias. This assumption proved correct, as Tiberias was nowhere to be seen when they arrived.
Their meeting point was at the foot of a large hill that overlooked the road from the Snow Lions’ tower to the training field. When the training grounds were first established, the earth and nature mages that built the roads and the forests made sure to create a number of ‘natural’ ambush points along each road, such as large boulders, hills, and thick tree lines. This would help to reinforce many of the lessons the instructors intended to teach the trainees, one of the most important being to keep off of roads as much as possible when on the move. Due to this ambush-friendly design, most trainees typically stop using the roads to move around the Academy by the fourth or fifth month of training, which is when most units really start to fight amongst themselves.
By the ‘final test’ of the training cycle, a simulated two-month long free-for-all war between the units known as the FTX or Field Training Exercise, traveling along the roads would be seen as near-suicide.
“He’s not here…” said Actaeon after looking around.
“Give him some time. He’s coming from farther away. In the meantime, have everyone spread out and keep an eye on that road,” responded Gaius. Actaeon and Linus immediately got to work coordinating the second-tier trainees. As they were all educated nobles, they moved quickly, but the same could not be said of the first-tier trainees. Eventually, the entire unit had formed a rough line that watched the road from the hill, hidden from view—though it had taken several minutes.
It wasn’t even five minutes later that the first group of Snow Lions was seen walking down the road. They walked at a leisurely pace, chatting amongst themselves. There were only ten of them, and they were all first-tier trainees at that.
When Gaius was informed of their sighting, he took a look for himself. He recognized several of them as people who frequently sat at Leon’s table during meals. If he listened closely, he could even hear what they were talking about.
“… just go to a family clinic. They’ll typically sell these contraception spells in packs of five for twenty silvers.”
“No shit?! How have I not heard about that before?!”
“I know, right? I only just found out about them last week. I bought a few and tried them out last time I was with Jeanne. Worth every coin.”
As they were speaking, they drew near the hill. Gaius waited until they were about halfway down the line, then emerged from the trees on the hill. The Snow Lions weren’t paying enough attention to notice him, but he didn’t care. He simply made a ‘follow me’ gesture to the waiting Deathbringers and charged down the hill with all the speed of a third-tier mage.
As soon as he started moving, Actaeon and Linus lead the second-tier Deathbringers out from the tree line and charged the Snow Lions, who were so surprised that they barely reacted until Gaius had already crashed into their group and brought his training sword down on one of them, knocking him unconscious. Gaius barely even glanced at most of the Snow Lions, turning his head to the three in the group who he saw around Leon all the time and giving them an incredibly sinister smile.
The man who reacted first was the largest and most heavily-built man among them. He was the one Gaius targeted first, and he just barely managed to draw his sword in time to block Gaius’ strike. He lacked the strength to hold the third-tier mage back, though, and his own sword was ripped from his hands by Gaius’ blow and painfully slammed back into his shoulder.
Gaius finished the job and knocked him out with a dismissive follow-up strike, then turn to the other two.
In the time it took Gaius to dramatically turn and derisively smile at them again, they had drawn their swords and took the opportunity to attack him. He sneered at their impudence and swung his own blade to meet their attacks. Just like their friend, they had no ability to defeat him in a head-on fight, and they were almost instantly defeated, falling unconscious at Gaius’ feet.
By the time Gaius was finished with them, the rest of the Snow Lions had been taken apart by Actaeon and Linus before the second-tier trainees could even arrive, let alone their first-tier trainees.
“Hehe, fucking peasants,” mocked Actaeon.
“Quiet,” reprimanded Gaius. He was about to issue more instructions when another man emerged from the trees and calmly walked down the hill.
“Looks like you all started the party without me…” he said.
“No choice. If we hadn’t attacked when we did, these worms would’ve escaped,” replied Gaius. The newcomer was, of course, Tiberias. When he swaggered over to Gaius, Linus, and Actaeon, many of the more hesitant Deathbringers could only stare with enormous smiles on their faces. None of them had any idea that they would have another third-tier mage joining them! This would all but guarantee their victory!
“Well, now that we’re all here, how about we stop wasting time and get to that tower?” suggested Linus.
No one disagreed, and the Deathbringers began running down the road, leaving the ambushed Snow Lions lying where they had fallen.
The Deathbringers only encountered one more group of Snow Lions on their way to the tower, and this one was led by none other than Alphonsus.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” he furiously demanded at the sight of Gaius and his entire unit appearing from around a turn in the road to block his way.
“Come on, Al. It shouldn’t be too difficult for you to realize what’s happening,” responded Gaius, who then proceeded to wave and order the attack on Alphonsus’ group. Alphonsus himself put up a valiant fight, but with four third-tier mages against him and only five second-tier Snow Lions at his back, he was no match for the Deathbringers. The fight was short and left him and his subordinates lying unconscious in the dirt.
Under more normal circumstances, the Deathbringers would’ve never left nobles like Alphonsus—or even his second-tier followers—in such an undignified position, but Gaius was furious and excited. His mind was filled with nothing but their own desires to inflict harm on Leon, and despite his seeming calm, this led him to ignore Alphonsus and his group and continue on to their objective.
Actaeon followed without hesitation—as did Tiberias, who was in a similar but much better concealed mood as Gaius—but Linus stopped long enough to look back at Alphonsus and whisper an apology before following the others.
The Deathbringers arrived at the tower only a few minutes later. When seeing the giant doors leading inside, Gaius smiled and took a deep breath.
‘This is it. The weeks of humiliation I’ve endured, the disrespect that animal has shown me, even going so far as to come between me and Valeria! I’ll pay it all back with interest!’
Gaius gave his unit a few seconds to ready themselves, then he ran forward and threw himself against the door. As the Snow Lions didn’t anticipate such a brazen attack, the doors weren’t secured in any way; they opened immediately, allowing the Deathbringers to surge inside. They were greeted with the sight of half a dozen very confused Snow Lions who were immediately cut down by the Deathbringers’ training weapons.
They then immediately moved on to the inner door, pushing it open and spilling out into the first-tier common room, catching the rest of the first-tier Snow Lions completely by surprise.
Gaius gleefully lunged forward and started attacking any Snow Lion in his range, with the Deathbringers behind him doing the same.
“WE”RE UNDER ATTACK! EVERYONE GET YOUR WEAPONS AND GET OUT HERE!” bellowed a second-tier trainee. His voice carried through the entire tower, telling everyone exactly what was happening. In all, the Deathbringers had managed to incapacitate about half of the entire unit so far, while taking minimal casualties of their own.
“Yes! Call your people! It’ll save us having to go to them!” shouted Actaeon in response. Gaius smiled, greatly appreciating Actaeon’s eagerness.
It took a few moments, but eventually the second-tier trainees started pouring out from the stairways. However, the instant they appeared, they found themselves facing Actaeon and Tiberias, who each had half a dozen second-tier mages behind them. They hit this third-tier wall and were immediately repulsed. The Deathbringers easily forced the Snow Lions back into the stairway, while their first-tier and spare second-tier trainees rampaged through the other rooms, attacking the Snow Lions who still hadn’t come out into the common room yet.
“Gaius! Come here and help me with this!” shouted Linus from the center of the room. He was reaching into the central shrine where the black Snow Lion banner was kept. It was secured with an odd mechanism that Linus found himself struggling to undo.
Gaius rolled his eyes but went over to help, though he kept most of his attention over on the stairway, so he could be ready for when Leon arrived.
‘Come on, savage, come show yourself. Come to me, so I can repay everything you’ve done…’
He didn’t have to wait long. The two third-tier mages hadn’t even figured out where to start to remove the banner from the shrine when they felt an icy cold killing intent radiate from the stairway, a killing intent that was far more potent than any another aura in the tower.
Gaius smiled in anticipation; he knew the source of that killing intent was Leon. He dropped what he was doing and sprinted for the stairs without hesitation.
“Show yourself barbarian! I’m ready!” he muttered to himself. It was time for him to take his vengeance!
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