On the night of the Deathbringers’ assault on the Snow Lions, the three instructors had arrived at the Snow Lions’ tower to find it deserted and the banner missing. After tearing through the tower, they confirmed their initial findings and met back in the first-tier common room to discuss the matter.
“Couldn’t find the third-tier mages, either…” said one of the flabbergasted instructors.
“Where could they possibly have gone?!” asked the other in an angrier tone than the first, but still just as confused.
“Wherever they’ve gone, it doesn’t seem to be for good,” said the Senior Instructor. When he had first seen the missing banner, he had been thrown headfirst into a pit of rage and didn’t stop to properly analyze the bedrooms. But after a few minutes, his head cooled and he took a second look while the other two instructors searched the upper floors. “They left many of their personal effects, like clothes and even silvers. They’ll be back soon enough, and when they are, they’ll all run the circuit until they fucking die!”
Almost as if it were given a cue, the door of the tower opened. The eyes of the instructors immediately darted over to see who had opened it, and they locked gazes with Aemilius, one of the second-tier mages who accompanied Castor to the Knight Academy.
“You!” shouted the Senior Instructor, his cool head immediately heating up again with a Snow Lion before him. “Where the fuck is everyone else?! And where the fucking fuck is the damned banner?!”
“Sir… we, uh…”
“Speak up, damn it!”
“We lost it! The Deathbringers stormed our tower and seized our banner!”
With Aemilius’ words, all three instructors fell silent in shock. This would be the fastest in the history of the entire Knight Academy that a unit had lost its banner! Not even a full month had passed since the training cycle had begun!
And this humiliation happened to their unit. Most of the third-tier nobles treated their banners and the seizure of them as a game, but it was for more to the Instructors. They stayed in those training units for longer than a single training cycle and had a far greater attachment to the banners than the trainees did, after all.
“Sir, Castor, Alphonsus, and Leon came to a decision about how to deal with this, I’ve been asked to lead you to them,” said Aemilius.
It took a moment for what he said to sink in for the Senior Instructor, but when it did he was as livid as he could possibly be. “… Lead me to them?! Who the fuck do they think they are?! They should be the ones who come to meet me! Fine, whatever. I’ll go to them. And they will experience hell…”
The Senior Instructor radiated a potent killing aura, and Aemilius had to fight for a few seconds to keep his legs from turning to jelly. After seeing him struggle, the Senior Instructor restrained his killing intent so the young man wouldn’t have to constantly fight against it, and Aemilius led the three instructors out of the tower and off into the woods.
About twenty minutes and several miles later, the four found themselves in the western mountains. The mountain range wasn’t that big, relatively speaking, but it was certainly large enough to get lost in and contained a veritable maze of valleys, gorges, and cave systems.
It was to one of these hidden gorges that Aemilius took the instructors. It was quite beautiful, with vivid green grass, tall trees replete with leaves, and a crystal-clear stream. Set into one of the rocky walls were a series of caves that led all the way up to the top of the gorge, and it was in the largest cave closest to the ground that the instructors found the Snow Lions.
Most of the first-tier trainees were sitting and resting in a fairly spacious cavern about fifty feet from the entrance. Looking around at them, the instructors could tell that few of them were particularly happy about the current arrangements. There was some light conversation, but most of the first-tier commoners looked defeated and depressed and were simply sitting in silence. A couple of them didn’t even look up when the instructors arrived.
The second-tier trainees were further into the cave in an adjacent cavern. They hardly looked happier than the first-tier trainees, but they were at least active and busy taking inventory of whatever they had brought from the tower. Training weapons and healing spells were the two big ones, but there was also enough cloth and wood to build a few crude tents. It wasn’t much, but the instructors were still quietly impressed that they had brought even this much.
In the smallest cavern at the back of the cave, the instructors finally found the three third-tier mages. Castor and Leon were enthusiastically making plans—or at least, Castor was quite enthusiastic; Leon was his usual stoic self. Alphonsus was listening in to their conversation, but he seemed to prefer to sit a few feet away and sulk rather than participate.
“What is all this?” the Senior Instructor demanded upon arrival.
“We’re moving out here, Sir!” responded Castor. He then continued, going into the why before the Senior Instructor could even ask. “After we lost our banner to the joint Deathbringer-Black Viper assault, we came to the decision to set up somewhere that will be difficult to find, let alone assault.”
“We didn’t decide on shit…” Alphonsus bitterly mumbled, causing Castor to briefly glare at him before turning back to the Senior Instructor.
“This place was found by Leon last week and it was his idea to come out here, Sir, and I liked it. And since I’m in charge of the Snow Lions, we go where I want us to go,” Castor said.
The Senior Instructor could tell that his last sentence was just another way to tell Alphonsus to deal with it, so he didn’t argue semantics about who was in charge. In fact, his anger at the unit losing their banner had nearly vanished after seeing how far they were going in response to their miserable defeat.
He took a seat on a nearby rock while the other two instructors waited by the cavern’s entrance. “So, what’s your next step?” he asked.
“Well, Sir, we’re working on setting up a few water runes to give us access to at least some clean water without relying on the stream outside. We got very lucky finding these caves; they seem tailor-made for a unit of about our size to hide out in…”
The Senior Instructor was well aware that the presence of these caves was not down to luck. When the mountains and forest were built, a great many hidden places for the units to establish themselves in were scattered around the entire Academy’s training grounds. It was the units that found and exploited these ‘natural’ forts that typically excelled during the unit field training exercises.
While there was still some work to be done to the cave system to make it habitable, most of the hardest work had already been done. There was enough room for the entire unit to live comfortably with a modicum of privacy, as well as pre-built baths and toilets—though they lacked the water runes they needed to work.
Beyond getting their water running, they would also need to conceal and fortify the caves, which the Senior Instructor would be only too happy to show them how to do over the next few weeks. The loss of the banner still infuriated him, but given how much initiative the Snow Lions were now showing—the unhappiness of the trainees notwithstanding—he couldn’t really be angry at them.
“We’re also working on getting some tools out here to help with what we need to do. I was planning on sending some people out with a few thousand silvers to get what we need in the forums tomorrow,” continued Castor. “This place isn’t much, but it’s where we’ll be when we’re not in class.”
After a moment of thought, the Senior Instructor said, “No. You’re not going to go to meals or morning classes anymore.”
The three trainees gave him confused and surprised looks when he said this; Alphonsus in particular looked like he was about to argue until he went blue in the face. However, the Senior Instructor continued after his short pause, cutting all three off before they could speak.
“I’m invoking the Centurion’s Rights of Command. This will give me the full authority to remove you from your classes and teach you wherever and however I see fit.” As he was talking, he sent a meaningful look to one of the other instructors, who nodded and left to inform the higher-ups about the Senior Instructor’s decision. “The Legate was considering banning the Centurion’s Rights of Command, but he fortunately hasn’t. That being said, the policy can only be called upon for a unit that has lost its banner.
“Additionally, this will give me the ability to requisition what you need to live outside of the tower. That means meals will be brought to the tower and you’ll need to organize some people to go and bring them back here. Tools will also be provided for you. However, this also means that the entire unit loses their weekend privileges, so no more going into the capital on Saturdays and Sundays. From now on, we’ll be training as much as possible. I will make men out of all of you boys, and we won’t stop until the banner has been retrieved!”
The Senior Instructor gave the three third-tier mages a sinister smile. The Knight Academy gave a great amount of leeway for the third-tier trainees to shine, but these three had lost their banner due to almost non-existent leadership. With the Senior Instructor now taking full charge, that short time of lacking leadership was now over.
“Sir?” asked Leon, speaking for the first time since the Instructors had arrived. “What about our afternoon classes?”
“Magical Theory is just time set aside for meditation at this point. Those who attend it can easily do that here. Beyond that, if the trainees want to attend any other classes, that should be fine, but you three need to make sure they don’t leak the location of these caves, understand?”
“Yes, Sir!” Castor answered immediately. Leon nodded, responding nonverbally. Alphonsus barely responded at all, only nodding when both Castor and the Senior Instructor glared at him.
“Alright! No time like the present to get started!” shouted the Senior Instructor. It was time for him to show these boys how to get their camp set up!
Over the next few hours, he guided the trainees through setting up proper water runes for their toilets and baths. Since Leon and a few others had taken enchantment classes, they did most of the work on that front.
After getting their water situation squared away, the Snow Lions got to work setting up where they would sleep. The supplies they brought with them were turned into a few large tents and set up in the biggest cavern in the cave system, allowing the seventy-six first-tier trainees to sleep relatively comfortably. The second-tier trainees would sleep in the second largest cavern under similar circumstances, but each person would get more personal space compared to the first-tier trainees. Leon, Castor, and Alphonsus each got their own small cavern to sleep in; despite how prohibitive these caverns were, they still had the most personal space out of the entire unit
Once all that was taken care of, the instructor sent to the administration building returned. Everything needed to get meals to the Snow Lions’ tower had been taken care of, and several trainees were organized to get the food and bring it back to the caves. They were led by Leon and included Henry, Charles, Alain, Bohemond, and Matthew.
After they finished that meal, the Instructors left, and the Snow Lions almost all immediately went to sleep. With the loss to the Deathbringers and the move to these caves, the Snow Lions were exhausted and slept so long that the Senior Instructor had to start waking them up when he returned Sunday morning.
Leon and his group of a dozen or so Snow Lions returned to their tower to fetch the unit’s breakfast and found a number of much-needed tools that had been requisitioned for their use with the food. After eating, the Senior Instructor began guiding them to properly fortify their caves using those tools. By the end of the day, the front entrance to the cave system had been sealed off and concealed from the rest of the densely vegetated gorge.
All this work helped the Snow Lions get their mind off their defeat, and they were even feeling fairly good by Monday morning.
And then their training under the Senior Instructor started.
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