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“Well that was surprisingly easy,” said Charles as he sat down in a stone chair. After the Snow Lions ambushed the Steel Century, they immediately returned back to their cave—though a few detours had been made just in case someone managed to track them.
“It was so easy because they had already taken casualties, about one-third of their guys I think, and they had to spare a bunch of people to carry them. Plus, we got very lucky running into them at all,” said Alain, taking a seat across the table from Charles.
“Yeah, and Leon took out their leader right from the start,” added Henry, who sat down next to Alain.
“And the rest of their leaders quickly followed,” Alain said.
“Alright! But all that doesn’t mean that that ‘battle’ wasn’t easy!” said Charles.
“It was easy for us is what I was trying to say. We weren’t the ones shooting arrows,” Alain stated.
“Well, as one of those who was shooting arrows, I can say that it was pretty easy,” Henry bragged.
“Are you guys really going to argue about how easy that battle was?” asked Matthew as he and Bohemond sat down with them.
“No,” said Charles with a chuckle, “but you have to admit, that fight was kind of anticlimactic. I mean, I assumed that the Steel Century, the unit with the most banners, would’ve put up a better fight. At the very least, I never thought their third-tier mages would’ve gone down as quickly as they did…”
“A third-tier mage isn’t invincible,” said Leon, appearing seemingly out of nowhere behind Charles, who almost jumped out of his skin.
“By the Ancestors! Where did you come from?!” he asked.
“Just from over there…” Leon said with a slightly confused look, pointing to the third-tier meeting room. Then, without waiting for Charles to say anything more, he continued, “But as I was saying, a third-tier mage will probably beat all of you single-handedly in a straight fight. That’s why we didn’t fight face-to-face and relied on our archers and the element of surprise; don’t forget that most other units have one more third-tier mage than we do. But, with the proper preparations and tactics, there isn’t a mage who can’t be defeated, as today should’ve shown you.”
“It sure did,” muttered Charles. The others all thought something to a similar effect, and their confidence grew that much stronger.
There was a mystique that surrounded the nobility in the eyes of most commoners—which almost every smart noble would actively work to maintain, or at least not damage—and that carried over to the trainees of the Knight Academy. After all, the nobles were objectively stronger than the commoners, and they had the wealth and connections to stay that way. But, as the trainees were learning, that advantage only carried the nobles so far.
Castor and Alphonsus certainly wouldn’t encourage this train of thought if they were there to hear it, but Leon didn’t care. He only wanted his friends to fight better and to not fear enemies who didn’t deserve it.
“This is how the rest of the FTX will go for us, isn’t it?” asked Alain. “Fighting at night and sticking to ambushes, I mean.”
“That’s the plan,” answered Leon. “As I said, most of the other units have more third-tier trainees than we do—and those that don’t, the Crimson Tigresses and Deathbringers, are hardly weak. We’d most likely be at a disadvantage if we attack head-on, and we’re sure that head-on is probably how they’ll want to fight. But Castor, Alphonsus, and I don’t want to fight them the way they want to be fought. We’re going to fight them on our own terms, maximizing our chances to win.”
“Makes sense,” said Henry.
As they were speaking, the sun began to rise, letting some natural light filter into the caves through the fortified entrance.
“Well, I’m going to hit the hay. It’s going to be another long night, so I’m going to get all the rest I can,” said Leon as he rose to his feet.
“I think I’m going to stay up a little longer,” said Charles. “I’m still a little charged from winning that battle, it’s going to take me a while to get tired.”
“Alright, not like there’s any hard training scheduled for tomorrow,” Leon muttered. He said his final parting words, then made for his room.
Charles stayed awake for about an hour and a half. The others eventually made their own ways toward their rooms, leaving him as the only one in the unit left awake—aside from the handful of Snow Lions assigned to keep watch over the gorge. Charles spent this time quietly meditating, as he could feel himself nearing the point where he could ascend to the second-tier of magic.
By the end of the FTX’s second day, all of the training units had completed their camps. All of the units had also deployed their scouts, finding the locations of the other camps fairly easily—with the sole exception of the Snow Lions’ gorge. With the need for access to water, all of the units avoided making camp in the mostly dry western mountains, making it pointless to scout the mountains unless they were specifically looking for the Snow Lions.
But, ‘specifically looking for the Snow Lions’ was an apt description for what the Steel Century had preoccupied themselves with. Word of their attack on the Obsidian Cataphracts hadn’t spread, as the units weren’t in a position to socialize with each other, not even during meals; the Academy’s policy was to deliver food to the units every week and allow them to manage their supplies themselves. In fact, following these supply caravans were part of the reason why the other camps were so easy to find.
The Snow Lions, in contrast, met their supply caravan at a pre-arranged point, which the other units hadn’t even realized they could do. With their entire unit present, it was easy to dissuade scouts from trying to follow them back to their camp.
The Obsidian Cataphracts had to fend off another assault on the second night, this time by the Blood Eagles who didn’t know the Cataphracts had already lost their banner. Since their defenses had been completed and were far more alert due to the previous night’s attack, the Cataphracts managed to fight off the Eagles.
A similar attack happened at the Black Vipers’ camp at roughly the same time. The Silver Legionaries attempted to seize their banner in a surprise night-time raid but had been quickly beaten back by Tiberias’ men. They managed to hold on to their own banner and retreat after the failed attack, but the casualties they took made them easy prey for the Crimson Tigresses, who had followed them since they had left their camp. In the aftermath of the second battle, the Tigresses took possession of the Legionaries’ banner.
The Silver Legionaries’ woes didn’t end there, either. Upon returning to their camp, they found that another unit had attempted to raid them while they were gone. There hadn’t been anything the Legionaries had thought was at risk of being stolen, as they had brought their banner with them when they left, but the other unit had disagreed; all the Legionaries’ supplies were gone! An entire week’s worth of food and over three thousand training arrows that they had been given by the Academy had been stolen.
Needless to say, this unpleasant surprise crushed what little remained of the Legionaries’ morale. Not even the replacement food supplies their Instructors arranged to have delivered the next day could raise their spirits.
“Well that was disappointing,” muttered Castor as he, Leon, and Alphonsus reconvened in their meeting room. The rest of the unit busied themselves storing everything they had stolen from the Silver Legionaries’ camp.
“It wasn’t guaranteed that they’d be there, can’t be helped,” said Leon with a shrug.
“We still should’ve stayed and ambushed them on their way back,” said Alphonsus with a frown.
“We can leave that for tomorrow after they’ve spent a night without food,” said Castor.
“But,” suggested Leon, “we should probably have scouts keeping an eye on the rest of the units, to prevent our time from being wasted again.”
“Hmmm,” said Castor, resting his chin on his hand and thinking for a moment. “Was our time truly wasted here?”
“Well, no,” Leon replied, “I guess that was just bad phrasing; effort spent seizing our enemy’s supplies is never wasted. But, I think that our time would be put to better use seizing banners, at least for now.”
“And then switch over to stealing supplies?” asked Alphonsus with a sadistic smile.
“Yes,” said Leon, his lips turning slightly upward in a wicked smile of his own.
“Sounds like a fine strategy,” said Castor, adding his own smile to the mix, “I’ll get some scouts together to head out in the morning to get the lay of the land. I know that the Senior Instructor said that battles don’t typically start for three or four days at least, but I can’t imagine that the other units have been spending these past two days sitting on their hands in their camps. I mean, the Steel Century already made their first move and the Silver Legionaries were clearly doing something since they weren’t at their camp, no reason to think that the Crimson Tigresses or the Deathbringers have remained passive…”
“Right. We don’t necessarily know who has what banners anymore…” said Alphonsus.
“Well, we already have six banners, since we got lucky with the Steel Century and grabbed four all at once,” said Leon. “That only leaves the Warriors of the Naga, Black Vipers, Crimson Tigresses, and Silver Legionaries.”
“The Warriors of the Naga’s banner was seized by the Crimson Tigresses months ago, and they never managed to retrieve it. I doubt they’ve managed to retrieve in these two days…” said Alphonsus.
“So, should the Crimson Tigresses be our next target, rather than the Silver Legionaries? They have the most banners, after all,” Castor proposed.
“That… might be a hard-fought battle. I wouldn’t recommend a frontal assault on their fortified camp unless we want another defeat like we suffered at the exhibition during Heavy Infantry Training,” said Leon. “We’ll definitely need to wait for them to leave the safety of their camp…”
“Are you sure the Cataphracts don’t have their banner anymore?” Valeria asked a recently-returned Crimson Tigress scout on the morning of the third day.
“Yes, absolutely,” the scout replied.
“Well, then, that just leaves the Steel Century and the Black Vipers,” said Valeria.
“Aaand the Snow Lions,” reminded Asiya.
“And them, but we don’t exactly know where they are, do we?” Valeria said back in a detached tone that disappointed Asiya, who had been trying to tease her.
“Then we should go after the Black Vipers,” Asiya said. “I think they’ll be easier than the Steel Century.”
“Why? I doubt any Black Vipers apart from some scouts will leave their camp today,” Valeria said with a disapproving tone. She really didn’t like how passive the Black Vipers had been; she thought they should’ve taken a much more active role in the inter-unit battles if only to showcase their skills just as the rest of the units had done. That said, even though she had rarely seen him fight, her lack of knowledge of Tiberias’ fighting and leadership style made her apprehensive, and she didn’t want to attack him when he was at his strongest if possible.
“Well, it’s either them or facing down Marcus…”
Just then, another Crimson Tigress scout returned. She had been the one Valeria and Asiya had sent to check up on the Steel Century. And, to the shock of both third-tier ladies, she reported that the Steel Century had lost all three of the banners they had started the FTX with. Since their other scouts had already reported back, Valeria and Asiya already knew none of them had the missing banners, leaving the Snow Lions as the only culprit for seizing not only the Steel Century’s banners but the Obsidian Cataphracts’ as well.
“The other units must have the same information as we do,” said Valeria with some worry. “If it’s down to us, the Black Vipers, and the Snow Lions, the other seven units will probably focus on us. We need to be extraordinarily careful today…”
“We’re still going out? Shouldn’t we hole up in camp and defend ourselves instead?” asked Asiya.
“No,” Valeria swiftly answered. “I think we’d have to endure attacks all day if we stay put. It’s safer to head out into the forest, even if we don’t attack the Black Vipers.”
“Hmm, in that case, we should take our spare arrows and at least some of our food with us. Best not leave it here unguarded, especially since we can’t exactly spare any guards,” Asiya said.
“Yes. Now, let’s get ready! I want us out of this camp in less than half an hour!” Valeria said with high intensity. She could feel the pressure that the three banners her unit held were exuding; with only about half the number of trainees as the other units, and possessing three banners, the Crimson Tigresses would be seen as the most vulnerable—and thus, enticing—target to the banner-less units.
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