After having lunch with Valeria and Asiya, Leon made an excuse and left. Asiya tried to get him to stay for a while longer, and even the stoic Valeria seemed disappointed, but Leon truly had to leave. After hearing Valeria’s name and learning of her connection to Adrianos, he was finding his killing intent to be extremely difficult to restrain.
As Leon walked down the streets of the capital on his way back to the Snow Lions’ camp in the gorge, Xaphan asked him, [So, what are you going to do? You won’t continue to weakly justify getting closer to that girl, will you?]
[Don’t know what I’m going to do. Nothing I can do, really. But I won’t spend much more time with Valeria than I must. I would’ve liked to have her as a friend, but chances are her family is responsible for my father’s death, my mother’s disappearance, and the destruction of the rest of my family.]
After Leon finished speaking, there was a short silence. Xaphan could feel the killing intent within Leon threatening to boil over, so he decided to try and lighten the mood a little.
[Well, at least you’re thinking with a little more logic now, rather than with what’s between your legs. You already have one young beautiful woman trying to get into your pants, for some reason, best not to press your luck. Your astronomically good luck.]
Of course, the demon’s comments drew some of Leon’s ire, but he had succeeded in shifting the young mage’s attention away from the events of his father’s death and the strong possibility that a girl Leon wanted to befriend could be involved.
When Leon returned to the gorge, he found that both Castor and Alphonsus had stayed behind, as did about two dozen Snow Lions. They had taken the day to pack up much of what they needed to bring back to the tower, while also making sure to lock up the caves as tightly as they could so they could be used again if the need arose.
Leon helped them out, mostly by using what he had learned in the enchantment classes to seal up the other entrances to the cave system. First, rocks and wood boards were used to block the entrances, then Leon carved enchantments into the boards that were similar to those used to fortify Legion camps and bases. When he was done, it would take any other unit several hours to open one of the cave entrances, but the Snow Lions would be able to do it in minutes.
Later that evening, the entire unit started to ferry some of their things back to the tower after returning from the city, with all one hundred and four Snow Lions heading back to their tower for dinner, rather than Leon leading a group to pick up the delivered food and bring it back to camp. They were accompanied by their Instructors, who spoke a little about what they ought to expect during the following weeks.
After all, Small Unit Tactics was over, and it was time to move on to one of if not the single most important class on the Knight Academy’s schedule: Heavy Infantry Training. This class was longer than the three-month Small Unit Tactics, coming in at just over four months. For the first week, the trainees would receive classes that taught basic unit formations, the flag signals and whistles used in battle, as well as get issued their final piece of gear: their shields.
After that, most of the rest of the four months would be spent out on the training field, practicing forming up and moving as an entire unit in a layered shield wall. There would also be other classes that would teach the trainees exactly what they would have to do if they were in larger units than a one-hundred-man company, but the time on the training field would take up the lion’s share of the time allotted to Heavy Infantry Training.
Following Heavy Infantry Training, there would be another month of classes dealing with the myriad creatures and monsters they might be deployed to hunt and fight. There were three monsters in particular that the Knight Academy focused on as they were the creatures that were responsible for the most damage to the rural towns and villages in the Bull Kingdom. They were vampires, stone giants, and werewolves.
There were other monsters in the Kingdom that they would have to hunt down if ordered to, such as gorgons and cockatrices, but most other dangerous creatures had been hunted to near-extinction in the Bull Kingdom. Vampires and werewolves, however, were monsters born of men and as such couldn’t be wholly eliminated, and the stone giants lived in the eastern Border Mountains, a region that was impossible to enter with the kind of large army that would be needed to bring a permanent end to their raids.
After the Senior Instructor finished laying out a road map that covered the majority of their remaining time in the Knight Academy, he left the Snow Lions to their business. That business being to finish the move back into their tower.
First, Castor ensured that both of their banners went into the ground floor shrine and were properly secured. It took him, Aemilius, and Janus almost an hour to figure out the various mechanisms that locked the banners in place.
Second, Alphonsus made sure the front door was as secured as it could be. It was boring work, simply testing the various locks that would buy the Snow Lions the time they needed to get armed and armored in the event of an attack, but Alphonsus took to this duty with an enormous smile on his face. It didn’t matter to him what his job was, he was just happy to be back in the tower and out of the dark dank cave he had been forced to sleep in for the past three months.
Lastly, Leon took charge of the nightly combat training that the rest of the unit had to take part in. He had them focus on simple motions repeated ad nauseum to build up the first-tier trainees’ combat muscles. This would not only help them become stronger fighters but also aid them in their ascension to the second-tier, something which five more Snow Lions had accomplished since their first trainee had ascended several months before.
On Sunday morning, the Snow Lions woke up after having one the best nights of sleep in their entire lives. Their happiness at coming back to soft, warm beds after resting their heads in a cave for months was truly profound. They were so motivated from the night’s rest that they finished moving the last of their things out of the cave by lunch, none of them having gone into the capital for the day.
The following week was spent being taught in the first-tier common room by the Senior Instructor. He drew crude diagrams on large sheets of paper for the entire unit to see showing exactly where they had to be and what they had to do when in formation.
The most basic formation that the Senior Instructor focused on was a layered shield wall, with five rows of two squads—twenty men—each. In the center of the first row was the Centurion who commanded the company and one of their Prefects; in the Snow Lions’ case, this was Castor as Centurion and Leon as the accompanying Prefect. The rest of the first row was made up of their personal squads, with the second-tier members posted on the flanks of the formation.
The other eight squads of the company made up the next four rows, with the squad commanders taking the flanks and their other second-tier mages directly behind the Centurion and leading Prefect. The second Prefect—Alphonsus for the Snow Lions—was in the last row, keeping an eye on the formation and making sure no one ran away during battle while the other Prefect and the Centurion were leading the company into battle. As most other units had four third-tier trainees, they would have their extra man in the last row as well.
In a normal company, the Centurion would be of the fourth-tier, but that wasn’t much of an option for the ten training units in the Knight Academy, which was why it was up to the third-tier trainees to decide amongst themselves who would lead their respective units.
For the entire week after moving back into their tower, the Snow Lions’ Instructors almost literally drilled this information into their skulls, while Leon, Castor, and Alphonsus arranged where each individual squad would be in the formation. By the next weekend, every Snow Lion knew exactly where they had to be when in their company formation.
While these classes were being taught, the Snow Lions continued to have their food delivered to their tower instead of going to the dining hall. Consequently, none of the other units had any idea that they had returned, given that they had long since stopped watching the Snow Lions’ tower.
And so, when the other nine units gathered on the training field the following Monday to begin practical training, nearly all of them were frozen in shock when the Snow Lions came running out from the forest, Aemilius proudly waving both of their banners in front of the unit as they arrived on the field. After a few seconds, the others recovered enough to not simply stand slack-jawed at the unexpected development, but none had a stronger reaction than the Deathbringers. Many of the more hot-blooded first-tier trainees struggled to stay with the unit and not charge the Snow Lions. Fortunately, the second-tier trainees had far more self-control and kept them in line.
“They’re back?” Linus asked rhetorically.
“We can get out banner back! Let’s g-“ started Actaeon, but he was silenced by a burst of killing intent from Gaius.
“Not here,” he said. “Save it for later.”
“But we still lack a banner! If we can seize ours again…” Actaeon tried to argue, but when Gaius glanced over at him, he stopped talking and left his argument unfinished. It was apparent from Gaius’ look that he was angry, but he kept himself in check despite the surprising return of the training battalion’s prodigal unit.
“Not like we can do anything now,” added Linus as the Snow Lions placed their banners on the wooden platform that held the other eight banners. The units weren’t allowed to seize banners if they were on that platform. This was a strictly enforced rule, as the instructors wanted everyone’s minds focused on training rather than on stealing banners when they were on the training field.
“Later then…” muttered Actaeon as he stole another glance at the Deathbringers’ banner, waving just below the Snow Lions’ own.
The other units weren’t so in need of restraint as they didn’t have the same recent history with the Snow Lions as the Deathbringers did. The most ‘antagonistic’ unit apart from Gaius’ was Marcus’, and that was simply due to the ambush he had tried to spring on Leon. Given that it didn’t work and they hadn’t tried again, the relationship between the units remained largely unchanged, with none of the leaders of either unit harboring bad feelings about the other.
As a matter of fact, the opposite was true. Marcus had had absolute confidence in his ambush plan, and when Leon not only escaped but managed to turn the tables on him, he felt an enormous amount of respect blossom for the other man. So when the Snow Lions appeared out of the trees, Marcus smiled wide, greatly anticipating testing himself again against an opponent who had beaten him once before.
His reaction was mirrored in slightly different ways in both Alcander and Valeria, with both smiling but the former reaching for his weapon while the latter merely reverted back to her normal cold and emotionless exterior barely a second after the smile appeared.
“Hey, he’s baaack,” Asiya said, nudging her silver-haired friend with her elbow, being not satisfied seeing only a tiny smile on Valeria’s face.
“I-I can see that!” Valeria said, her slight stutter the only sign that her haughty and unconcerned tone wasn’t nearly as honest as it seemed.
But, for all the shock their return brought, the Snow Lions were remarkably calm, only taking a spot slightly apart from the others to wait for their morning training to begin. Though to say they were calm would be to remark solely on their outer appearance; many Snow Lions were relishing being the center of attention, though Castor, Leon, and Alphonsus had all given them incredibly strict orders to maintain their composure. They wanted to make a good impression, after all.
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