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“Get that watchtower raised! We need to get this camp secured by the end of the day!” shouted Elianus, the third-tier noble in charge of the Obsidian Cataphracts.
He’d chosen to have his unit set up camp on one side of a deep river that flowed through the southern parts of the forest. By the time the sun fell on the first day of the FTX, the Obsidian Cataphract’s camp hadn’t been completed; they still needed to raise part of their eastern fence and the watchtower in the south-eastern corner was only half-completed. And that created a vulnerability that, with the growing darkness, made Elianus nervous.
His Senior Instructor had told him that the fighting doesn’t typically begin until the second or third day of the FTX, but Elianus wasn’t about to relax because of what ‘typically’ happens. In fact, he had heard movement out in the forest past his unit’s camp borders several times in the past hour, sounds that he doubted came from local fauna. He had done the sensible thing and sent out a squad of scouts, but each time they returned having not seen a single thing worthy of note. And that only made Elianus increasingly paranoid.
He was absolutely right to be paranoid, even if his scouts came back empty-handed. The Steel Century had arrived about a quarter mile from the Obsidian Cataphract’s camp, just far enough to hide from Cataphract scouts. The sounds Elianus had heard was from Marcus and his squad spying on his unit, waiting for the right time to strike.
That time came about an hour after the sun had fallen, when the first-tier trainees in the Obsidian Cataphracts had started to turn sluggish from hunger and fatigue and work nearly stalled on finishing their camp. Just as Elianus was about to hurry over and hurry them along, a volley of fifty arrows landed in the camp, immediately stunning three Cataphracts into unconsciousness and fifteen more into some kind of temporary disability.
“WE’RE UNDER ATTACK! GET YOUR WEAPONS!” Elianus bellowed, drawing his sword and rushing back to his tent to grab his shield. Fortunately, he had insisted that everyone work in their armor, which was why they had so few people rendered unconscious.
But, the Steel Century weren’t about to give the Obsidian Cataphracts the time they needed to get organized; another volley of arrows descended on the camp mere seconds after the first, and another immediately after that. When the rain of arrows ceased, forty Cataphracts had been knocked out or otherwise left unable to fight. And that was when the Steel Century appeared, steadily marching in a thin formation several hundred feet out into the trees.
The Steel Century couldn’t assault the camp from the river, which bent and looped around the clearing the camp was built in, leaving them with only the north and east they could approach from. To that end, Marcus had his unit form a long line with heavy infantry in the front with shields raised and archers behind them. The formation was spread out so it could advance from both possible directions at once, tightening up as they neared the camp.
“Get over to the east side! Form a shield wall! Protect the camp!” Elianus shouted, desperately trying to keep the panic out of his voice.
The sixty remaining Obsidian Cataphracts formed up on the inside of the fence and locked shields. Fortunately for them, all four of their third-tier trainees had been unaffected by the Steel Century’s arrow barrage.
“You five!” Elianus shouted at five of the trainees in the last line of the shield wall. “You get up that tower and fire down at the enemy! Everyone else not in the front lines, get out your bows and shoot!”
The five men Elianus singled out climbed the north-east watchtower and started loosing arrow after arrow at the Steel Century, as did thirty more Cataphracts from just behind the shield wall. However, the Steel Century’s first line only had to raise their shields, with the archers taking cover behind the first line, and every Cataphract arrow bounced off its mark.
“Shit…” muttered Elianus as the Steel Century advance barely slowed.
There were about fifty feet between the edge of the clearing and the camp fence, and when the Steel Century finally made it to that edge, Elianus shouted, “Shields up!” Immediately, the ineffectual fire from the Cataphract archers ceased, save for the five in the tower, and all shields were raised.
But then, the Century’s archers resumed fire, and their targets were the five Cataphracts in the tower. Two were immediately knocked out while the other three wound up forced to duck behind the waist-high wooden walls of the tower with their shields over their heads. Meanwhile, Marcus’ fifty heavy infantrymen charged.
Elianus’ face fell, as he had massed all of his remaining men at the small gap in the unfinished fence that he assumed would be the target of the attack, just south of the north-eastern watchtower. Instead, Marcus had his men attack the entire northern and eastern sections of the fence.
“Second squad guard the north! Third squad guard the east!” Elianus ordered, and two squads peeled out from the shield wall to guard their designated sections of fence. Each of these squads was commanded by a third-tier trainee. Their movements didn’t go unnoticed by the Steel Century, though, and many of their archers retargeted these men who had broken from the safety of the shield wall.
Seeing this, Elianus became wracked with indecision; he could order several more of his men to put away their shields and take out their bows, but they would be made vulnerable to the Century’s return fire. However, with the Century’s heavy infantry charging the fence, their archers were just as vulnerable.
Almost none of Marcus’ men attacked the hole in the fence that the Cataphracts had left, instead choosing to assault the completed parts of the fence, either by climbing over or having several second-tier mages attempt to destroy a section. The Cataphracts Elianus dispatched to protect the fence were hard-pressed to do so, given how outnumbered they were. They could attack through the fence posts, but that didn’t change the number disparity. So, realizing that there wasn’t much else he could do, Elianus made his decision.
“Follow me!” he shouted, charging out from the hole in the fence and attempting to flank the attacking Steel Century. There was a split second of confused hesitation, but the Cataphracts at his back followed him, with the last third-tier trainee taking a squad to attack Marcus’ men who were attacking the east section of the fence while the rest followed Elianus to defend the north.
The battle became a chaotic whirlwind of shield bashing and sword slashes, but the Steel Century still had their archers and Marcus put them to good use. He had them shift their target again to the counter-attacking Obsidian Cataphracts. They hadn’t reformed into their shield wall after their charge, not that doing so would’ve helped much against the archers. The Cataphracts fell in droves to the falling arrows, bringing the battle to a swift end.
Nearly all of the Obsidian Cataphracts were knocked out or disabled so they couldn’t continue fighting the Steel Century, then one of Marcus’ second-tier trainees retrieved their banner from the center of their camp, and the Century melted back into the forest. The last thing the few still-conscious Cataphracts saw was Marcus, cheekily grinning at them in triumph.
“That went better than I expected!” shouted an exuberant Alcander.
“Indeed, that was remarkably easy. It would’ve been much harder if they had prepared better, though…” said Marcus. The Steel Century had only taken about thirty casualties in the battle, while they had effectively ‘wiped out’ the Obsidian Cataphracts. Marcus was sure the Cataphracts would retaliate as soon as they were able, but he believed that they didn’t know where the Century’s camp was, so the threat they posed only brought a smile of anticipation to his lips.
“Stay cautious!” Marcus shouted to his unit as they reorganized themselves about half a mile west of the Obsidian Cataphracts’ camp. “We can celebrate our victory back at camp, but right we’re not the-“
He would’ve continued speaking, but the arrow that had come from seemingly nowhere and struck him directly between two of his armor plates made that impossible. For a moment, Alcander stared in disbelief as Marcus crumpled to the ground before dozens more arrows rained down upon them. Most fell upon those at the front and back of their movement column, while those in the middle were largely hampered by carrying their casualties from the previous fight and were subsequently passed over.
“RAISE SHIELDS!” Alcander roared, just barely managing to do so himself in time to block an arrow that certainly would’ve knocked him out.
Three more arrow barrages fell upon the Steel Century, leaving more than sixty of the trainees unconscious, including those casualties sustained in the previous battle. Alcander wasn’t one of them. He heard some footsteps a few feet in front of him—right where their banner carriers had fallen—and he peeked out from behind his shield to get a look at who it was.
Standing in front of him, just out of reach, was Leon, Castor, and Alphonsus.
“YES! FINALLY!” he shouted as he cast away his shield and reached for the enormous ax strapped to his back. “I’M GETTING THAT DUEL, LEON!”
“You really shouldn’t have done that,” Castor said with a smile, his eyes flitting to the discarded shield. Half a dozen arrows shot past the three third-tier trainees and hit Alcander, knocking him down before he could do anything more than widen his eyes at the realization of what Castor meant. His armor kept him conscious, but both of his arms and one of his legs had been disabled, leaving him helpless for the three second-tier Snow Lions who advanced to take the fallen banners. One of them, with a casual swing of his sword, finished the job the arrows had started and stunned Alcander.
“Hey, look at this,” said another, lifting the Obsidian Cataphracts’ banner.
“Huh. I guess these guys beat us to the punch,” Alphonsus said with a wide smile. He walked forward and personally took the extra banner, right in front of the last few still-standing men in the Steel Century.
“Drop that!” shouted one from the safety of the hastily established shield wall. When Alphonsus glanced over, he recognized the man as one of the third-tier trainees in the Steel Century—the last one who wasn’t stunned, he reckoned.
“Why don’t you come out and make me drop it?” Alphonsus challenged. The other man almost tried just that, but he only needed one look around to immediately think again; there were barely more than twenty men on his side who were in any condition to fight, and he could just barely see the glinting of the Snow Lions’ swords and armor, waiting to strike from the shadows of the forest. His side was horribly outnumbered and in a terrible tactical position. The Steel Century wasn’t going to win.
But he still couldn’t just let the Snow Lions leave with all four of their banners. The third-tier mage grit his teeth and leaped out of the tight ring of Steel Century shields directly at Alphonsus. He swung his sword down with all of his might, hoping to at least stun Alphonsus and make his unit’s defeat that much less terrible. Unfortunately for him, Alphonsus hadn’t made an empty challenge; he easily side-stepped, and the man was peppered with arrows.
“Well, good night to you gentlemen!” said Castor to the remaining Steel Century trainees, flashing them an almost mocking smile as he spoke. Then, he turned back to his own unit and said, “Now let’s grab those banners and head back to camp!”
And just like that, the Snow Lions vanished into the dark forest after firing one more volley of arrows, leaving those few men in the Steel Century who were left to tend to their stunned comrades.
When Marcus woke up, his first thought was to try and track the Snow Lions, but he had to wait for the rest of his unit to recover before he could start. When he was finally able to set out, he found that the trail disappeared at a river, not a quarter mile from where the Snow Lions had ambushed his unit.
“Ancestors damn it!” he shouted in frustration. “All of our banners! Gone!”
“We’ll get them back,” said Alcander with a determined look.
“You’re damned right we will!” Marcus said with a wild light in his eye. “Every one of my kin who has gone to the Knight Academy has led their unit to victory, seizing the most banners during their FTX’s! I will not be the one to break that trend, especially not when my own uncle is the Legate! We will find the Snow Lions, even if it takes every remaining second of this FTX, and we will recover our banners!”
This is the time for the Snow Lions to really show off what they can do ;)
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