The Snow Lions made one hell of an impression upon their unexpected appearance, but not even five minutes after they placed their banners upon the banner platform, perhaps the only thing that could distract the rest of the trainees from the new arrivals happened: their issued shields had arrived.
From the Administration Building came forty horse-drawn carts on air plates—wooden tablets with robust, high-quality air enchantments that lifted the carts about three or four feet into the air, making them trivial for the horses to pull. These air plates were a similar concept to the air rune that Artorias had carved into his fur sled, but far more refined.
Within the carts were the shields the trainees were waiting for, the final piece of standard equipment that every person in the Royal Legions was issued. Unlike the defective enchantment-less armor they had received earlier in the cycle that wouldn’t stop a battle-ready weapon and barely did the job blocking their training weapons, these shields were the real deal. The shields were rectangular and long enough to cover an average man from shoulder to knee and wide enough to slightly curve around the body. They were primarily made of thick wood planks, but their front was a quarter inch layer of steel and painted a deep crimson.
On the inside of every shield was an enchantment carved with an ingenious fractal pattern that made the shield both sturdy and reliable. The shield’s true strength, however, was shown when used in conjunction with other shields. The fractal enchantments carved into them would connect with and amplify each other, turning even the smallest Legion unit into a mobile fortress once they had gotten into a shield wall.
The issued armor for the Royal Legions was strong but not of unusual quality for a nation as powerful as the Bull Kingdom. Similarly, their weapons and even cavalry weren’t anything special. But with these shields, no man in the Legion would ever stand alone, linked as they were through their shield’s enchantments. It would not be hyperbole to say that the Bull Kingdom had been built upon the strength of these shields.
When Leon was passed his shield, he found himself captivated by the enchantment, to the point of completely ignoring everything else around him. It took a nudge from Castor to bring Leon back to reality and follow the rest of the unit to their practice area.
“Take this. You reviewed the calls for each formation, right?” asked the Senior Instructor to Castor after handing him a whistle.
“Yes, Sir,” Castor answered.
“Good. Then let’s get started. Form everyone up into a standard battle line.”
Castor immediately whistled three times in quick succession, causing the Snow Lions to spring into action. There was a little confusion as the trainees weren’t used to handling their brand-new shields, but they got into their lines in short order. Castor and Leon were in their place at the front and Alphonsus watched the back. None of them had to say anything to the trainees as they had done some informal practice the week before to make sure the unit could form up at a moment’s notice.
“Keep going!” shouted the Senior Instructor once the Snow Lions had gotten into place.
Castor whistled again, this time two short blasts and one long blast.
“Shields up!” shouted Leon and Alphonsus in response. The entire unit raised their shields forming a long shield wall. With their enchantments helping to stabilize them, even the weaker first-tier mages appeared formidable despite the weight of their shields.
But appearances can be deceiving. The Senior Instructor made a subtle hand gesture behind him and the two other Instructors sprinted forward and threw themselves against the points where the shield wall was weakest, in the middle of the first-tier trainees on the front line. They grabbed, kicked, and shoved at the shield wall, even ripping the shield away from a few overwhelmed first-tier trainees, utterly shattering the formation.
“That was a miserable showing!” shouted the Senior Instructor. “Get yourselves back into formation!”
Castor immediately blew his whistle three times again, with both Leon and Alphonsus shouting at the Snow Lions to get back into their shield wall.
“Brace yourselves this time!” Leon added.
“Make sure to channel your magic into your shields! Let the enchantments connect and overlap with the shields to your right and left!” Alphonsus shouted further.
It took the Snow Lions a few seconds to get back into formation, but the Instructors didn’t give them the time they needed to solidify their position. They charged again at the shield wall before every shield enchantment had been activated, causing the formation to crumble again.
“These are only two men! They may be fourth-tier mages, but your shields should be able to resist their charge with ease if you form up properly!” The Senior Instructor made a great show of scowling at the Snow Lions picking themselves up off the ground as he said this. He didn’t actually expect them to be able to form up perfectly on their first and second tries, but he wasn’t going to give them any room to slack off.
“Again!” he shouted as the other two Instructors pulled back.
“Get back on your feet!” Leon shouted. Alphonsus and Castor added their voices to his, which along with a few whistles from Castor, galvanized the Snow Lions into getting back to their feet and into their formation.
And they just barely got back into line when the Instructors charged again, throwing themselves against the shield wall and knocking back the Snow Lions who tried to hold firm. It didn’t matter that the line was five men deep, it still broke apart with almost a dozen Snow Lions on each side falling to the ground like dominos.
This pattern repeated itself another half dozen times, with the Snow Lions failing to hold their shield wall. That being said, they managed to reform quicker every time. The Senior Instructor considered that a good start, but the ability to reform wasn’t nearly as important as holding their lines together in the face of a strong enemy.
So, having had their fun with the inexperienced Snow Lions, the Instructors stopped gleefully tearing apart their formation and started to instruct their trainees in the proper stances for those in the back to support those at the front, and to allow their shield enchantments to connect with each other.
When the time for morning training was over, the Snow Lions joined the other units in the dining hall for lunch. Afterward, though, they returned to the training field to continue practicing forming and moving in the shield wall. Leon was the only exception, as he refused to miss a single enchantment class even though it left the Snow Lions down a third-tier trainee. They were able to compensate by having Leon’s spot taken by Obellius, one of the unit’s more promising second-tier trainees and de facto second in command for Leon’s squad.
A few hours later, Leon returned from his enchantment class and took his position again, which was also the same time that the Instructors took to shattering the Snow Lions’ formation again after having given them some time to fix their problems. Of course, that one day of practice wasn’t enough and the Instructors had little trouble getting through the shield wall, but there had been some noticeable improvement.
By the end of the week, the Instructors found that it was much harder to break through the Snow Lions’ formation than it had been. Those five days of hard training had clearly not been wasted on the Lions, as they had become proficient enough to maintain their formation even in the face of the fourth-tier Instructors. This stood in stark contrast to the rest of the units, as without the same amount of time spent training, they struggled to do the same.
In the following weeks, the Instructors had them incorporate their fighting techniques into this training as well, mostly consisting of shield bashes and stabbing with their arming swords. Leon had a small amount of trouble with this given that his longsword wasn’t particularly suited for fighting in as confined a space as the shield wall, but he was able to make it work.
By the third week, the Instructors were having them shift their lines. Essentially, the front line would only fight for about five minutes, at which point they would turn around and squeeze past the second line all the way to the back of the formation, and the second line would take over as the new first line. Five minutes later, they too would fall back and the third line would take over. This pattern of brief bursts of fighting, punctuated by much longer stretches of rest, would help the unit pace itself and keep the trainees in the front lines always at the top of their game.
It was because of this tactic of shifting their front lines that the heavy infantry units were seen as the safest units in all the Royal Legions, with only the archers competing for the spot. The heavy cavalry units weren’t seen as particularly dangerous either, but with no outstanding equipment to speak of they faced greater risk and were hardly as untouchable. The light infantry and light cavalry units were something else, though. In any given large-scale battle, it would invariably be those two groups that would suffer the highest casualty ratio in any given Legion.
A month of hard training flew by, and the Instructors began to entertain the notion of teaching the trainees other formations they would need. However, before they got around to doing that, there was another piece of business they wanted to get around to: a demonstration that the Instructors of all the units would put on not only for themselves but also for the Legate who would come to see the progress of the trainees.
On Monday morning of the fifth week of Heavy Infantry Training, rather than split up into their units to go and train separately, as usual, the Instructors had all ten units gather around the banner platform where the Legate was waiting.
“Every one of you has performed magnificently!” the Legate started off with, beaming down at the crowd of almost one thousand trainees. “I know that you will all be a credit to the Royal Legions, serving your King and Kingdom with honor and distinction!
“But, the weight of the Royal Legion is heavy, and there’s no need to place that upon your shoulders right this moment! So in the spirit of friendly competition and getting to know your fellow trainees better, we’re going to have a little game!”
With that said, the Legate took a seat and let one his Tribunes step forward.
“Here’s what’s going to happen! We’re going to separate your units into five groups of two by drawing names out of a box! You will fight whoever you’re grouped up with in the standard heavy infantry formation!”
The Tribune paused for a moment to let his words sink in for the trainees, and as soon as they had, the Snow Lions felt the attention and killing intent of just about all the other units. They all wanted a piece of the prodigal unit, with the Deathbringers, Crimson Tigresses, and Steel Century chief among them. In fact, the obvious anticipation mixed with slight killing intent coming from Valeria, Asiya, Marcus, and Alcander dwarfed that of everyone else.
Gaius wanted to fight against the Snow Lions just as much as those four did, but he was far more subtle about it. His reflection of the past few months had left him a little lost about who or what he wanted to be, and he felt like he would have a clearer picture of his future once he beat Leon’s unit. However, as his will to fight wasn’t rooted in blind vengeful rage so much anymore, he was able to control his emotions like a seasoned noble and maintain an impassive expression.
The one unit that didn’t react to this competition—not even to momentarily glare at the Snow Lions—was the Black Vipers. Led by the eerily quiet Tiberias, the Black Vipers kept a quiet dignity that didn’t have the slightest of cracks.
All this attention made the Snow Lions feel more than a little awkward, but they were more than ready to face whoever they would be matched against. And judging by the way most of the Snow Lions glared back at the Deathbringers, it was clear that they were already certain about who they would be fighting. They had fought the Deathbringers too much to even consider that they’d fight another unit.
After several moments, the Tribune on the banner platform produced a box out of his soul realm and started to pull slips of paper out of it with dramatic flourishes.
“The Silver Legionaries versus… the Steel Century!”
With the first pairing announced, the tension surrounding the Snow Lions increased. Marcus and Alcander were a little disappointed, but the strength of the Silver Legionaries was apparent simply because they still held their own banner. They turned their attention away from the Snow Lions and prepared themselves for their battle.
“Next will be… The Obsidian Cataphracts versus… The Blood Eagles!”
It had never been so apparent to Leon how ridiculous the names of the some of the units were.
‘Blood Eagles, Deathbringers, Black Vipers, whatever asshole came up with these names was clearly trying too hard,’ he thought to himself.
With the possibilities for who they would fight decreasing, the killing intent in the air only grew more intense. The aura coming from the Deathbringers was strong enough that Gaius didn’t even bother trying to stop it; they clearly thought the same as the Snow Lions, that they would end up squaring off with the other unit again.
“And we have the Snow Lions!” called out the Tribune, deliberately taking much longer to proceed than he had for the others. He showcased his flair for the dramatic by glancing to the Deathbringers, then to the Crimson Tigresses, and then to each of the other units in turn. Only then did he reach back into the box to decide who would battle the Snow Lions.
When he pulled out the slip of paper and read it to himself, he smiled and paused again, pushing the tension in the air almost to the breaking point.
“The Snow Lions will face… the Crimson Tigresses!”
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
I Dewa Bagus