As promised last month, there will be 3 more bonus chapters on Oct 1st, which will actually finish this arc!
With their supplies incinerated, the allied units had a lot of trouble staying in their position. Those supplies had been meant to last them for several weeks, but with them gone they’d either have to send runners back to their old camps and ferry replacement food and arrows back to the new camp or they would have to abandon the new camp temporarily until they worked out a new logistical solution.
While it came with a high risk of ambush, the nine third-tier nobles decided on the first option, and more than sixty runners and guards were sent out early the next morning. The runners safely returned with the needed supplies around noon, but the allies were quite nerve-wracked for the hours they were gone. The entire camp had been alert for any sign of a Snow Lion attack and both passes were watched by no less than twenty trainees each.
However, once the runners came back and the allies had a good meal, morale improved, and everyone managed to relax. Plus, with their return, the allies had the numbers to begin scouting. The leaders wanted to know everything about the gorge and the surrounding mountains, so they sent out just as many scouts as they had runners. However, the scouts didn’t find anything worth noting the entire day. None of the hidden entrances to the Snow Lions’ caves were found, and even if they had been, they had all been blocked and fortified anyway.
“There isn’t going to be any fancy tactics that will let us take that fort without casualties!” Actaeon almost shouted. “We should just resign ourselves to the fact that we’re going to have to take it by a frontal assault!”
“We haven’t explored the entire area, yet! We shouldn’t try something so reckless until we’ve gotten a good understanding of the surrounding area!” argued Linus.
Actaeon was too impatient for that, and he shot back, “Why should we wait?! I’m sure we could take that fort right now if we tried! We might have one hundred and fifty or maybe even two hundred of our trainees fall in the attempt, but we outnumber the Snow Lions two and a half to one! What do we have to lose?!”
“Since the Snow Lions are only using training weapons, we really don’t have that much to lose if we tried to assault their walls tomorrow…” said Valeria quietly.
“Still, we ought to train the way we are going to fight,” Marcus said. “We would explore all of our options before a frontal assault under normal conditions.”
“We could at least try and probe their defenses,” suggested Gaius. “If we see an opening, then we can order a full attack.”
“What do you have in mind when you say, ‘probe their defenses’?” asked Asiya.
“We split up into three shield walls and attack the palisade from all three sides. Actually, moving in a turtle formation would be better, since they have those archer platforms. We also ought to have several units of archers behind a single-layer shield wall covering our attack. We can keep casualties to a minimum that way.”
“That sounds more like an assault than a probing action,” said Marcus with a frown.
“We can always turn around and retreat if things go poorly,” Gaius responded.
“Hmm… Maybe we can do that… but before, we should try a proper probing action. I have something in mind.” Marcus looked around at the nine leaders with a serious look. “We can try it tonight if you’re all up for it…”
The others were all onboard and were ready to go by nightfall.
Marcus and the other eight third-tier mages assembled near the north-western pass. With them were an equal number of second-tier mages. They didn’t carry shields, though they had their armor and weapons. As soon as they were ready, they ventured out into the dark pass.
The going was slow, as the second-tier trainees couldn’t see in the dark as well as the third-tier mages could. It took them nearly three hours just to walk the half mile they needed to approach the Snow Lions’ camp, a journey that had been made much longer when Marcus, Actaeon, and Asiya had all discovered flare spells surreptitiously hidden in bushes, tall grass, and tree roots that they had to avoid.
The group managed to come within one hundred feet of the tree line before they stopped, while Marcus, Gaius, and Valeria silently moved forward to get a closer look at the Snow Lions’ nighttime defenses. They saw one Lion in each of the towers, plus one on each archery platform. This was a total of twelve Snow Lions on guard. The three unit leaders could tell that the sentries’ vigilance wasn’t high, but with how many of them there were and the limited number of approach vectors and large amount of cleared land between the walls and the tree line, they didn’t need to be particularly vigilant.
‘This is not going to be easy,’ thought Marcus, a frown appearing on his face. In contrast, Valeria was smiling in obvious anticipation, despite seeing the same bad tactical position as Marcus. Gaius’ expression was of a more neutral determination, with only a slight pursing of the lips and narrowing of the eyes to break his impassivity.
The three returned to the others, then silently prepared themselves for the fight.
Fifteen minutes later, they opened up with a short barrage on all four of the towers in the outer wall. They had had to sneak up as close as they could, but they had gone so far that the tree cover wasn’t enough to shield them from any counter-attacks from the archer platforms. Fortunately for them, they had the element of surprise, and all four of the Snow Lions in the towers on the outer wall were stunned into unconsciousness.
The rest of the Snow Lions weren’t so inattentive that they’d miss such an attack, and immediately a shrill alarm spell was activated by one of the Lions guarding the inner wall.
“Let’s go!” shouted Marcus as he sprinted for the wall. The only cover his group would find from the archer platforms was right up against the front of the palisade. But, to get there, they’d have to sprint across two hundred feet of relatively open ground. A short distance for the third-tier mages, but still more than enough time for the archers to get off a couple shots apiece. And the Snow Lions had trained enough that their shots were well aimed.
When Marcus arrived at the palisade, only six others had made it with him: Valeria, Gaius, Alcander, Asiya, and two second-tier trainees from the Deathbringers. The other eleven had been shot down as they ran, and their fallen forms littered the open area between the palisade and the tree line. A few of them still moved, but another few arrows from the Snow Lions quickly put a stop to that.
Marcus sighed in dejection. They still had enough people to inflict serious harm on the Snow Lions, but that was dependent on making it over the second wall. They’d be turned into pincushions after leaping over the first, he doubted they’d have the time to make it over the second. To make things worse, the Snow Lions reacted much faster than he thought they would; he could hear dozens of them pouring into the gap between the two palisades.
“Fall back!” he shouted. The tactical situation wasn’t lost on anyone else, so they all nodded and scattered. Marcus, Valeria, Asiya, and Gaius made it to the tree line, but Alcander and the two second-tier Deathbringers were felled by Snow Lion archers.
“Hold fire!” came a shout from one of the outer towers. “Whoever’s out there, if you come out and admit defeat, we’ll let you come take your fallen back to your camp!”
Marcus glanced back and saw that it was Castor who had called out to them. His offer was a common courtesy among the trainees, there was no need to suspect it for a trap. Marcus turned and walked back into the open area with his hands far away from his weapons.
“I’ll take that offer! You’ve beaten us! We’ll take our people and go!” Marcus called out with a good-natured smile.
“Then be quick about it! It’s late!” Castor shouted back. He returned Marcus’ smile, but neither he nor any of the Snow Lions left the towers. They barely moved an inch until Marcus and the other three had dragged their fallen comrades to the edge of the tree line, where they were revived with healing spells—though it took about ten minutes for their eyes to open, and another five or so for them to regain enough mobility to leave.
When they returned to their camp, they made for the command tent to talk about what they had learned from their attack. However, just about as soon as they had begun their discussion, they heard their trainees running around outside and yelling coming from the pass to the Snow Lions’ gorge.
Castor hadn’t waited to launch a retaliatory strike. When the nine allied leaders arrived at the pass, they found all twenty guards unconscious.
“FORM A SHIELD WALL!” Alcander bellowed, summoning all nearby trainees to the pass. A few more token arrows were fired at their formation, and then… nothing. With the memory of what happened the last time they pushed out into the pass after an attack, Marcus and the others elected to not do the same thing and make their camp vulnerable again. The allied shield wall just stayed put, waiting for more arrows come flying out from the trees.
After about ten seconds of waiting, three young men stepped out from the dark mountain pass: Castor, Alphonsus, and Leon.
They stayed in the open just long enough to show themselves, smile at the shield wall, then melt back into the shadows. No more arrows were shot after that.
“Cocky bastards,” growled Actaeon when they returned to the command tent again.
“I guess this was only retaliation for our own attack, rather than an earnest assault on our position,” Gaius said.
“We should still make sure all of our trainees are alert for anything,” Alcander mentioned. “They may have made a show of leaving, but I don’t trust those guys to leave things here.”
“We’ll certainly do that,” said Marcus, “but I think our priority is planning the assault on their camp. We can let our second-tier trainees take care of security for now.”
“That response time was incredible,” Linus said, saying what was on everyone else’s mind. They had known that the Snow Lions had become great archers, so the stellar performance of those on the platforms high up the cliff wasn’t surprising. How quickly the Snow Lions had responded and reinforced their palisades, however, was quite unexpected. Their attack hadn’t even been going on for two minutes before they heard the Lions’ footsteps on the other side of the first wall.
“It was, and I don’t think we’d be any faster in an assault,” Marcus said, then he turned to their map on the table. “To make things worse, their gate is over here on the south side, but I’d be willing to bet the inner gate is all the way over here on the north side. We would have no cover from their arrow fire when we try to open them, and we’d have to fight through the entire length of the palisade to get from the outer gate to the inner gate.”
“So we’re going to have to cover someone with shields from all directions while they work on opening the gate,” Valeria said. “Our second-tier mages will have a hard time getting over the spikes on top of the palisade, but it should be possible to get thirty or forty trainees over it.”
“Possible, but they’re going to be under fire from all directions and probably have Snow Lions attacking them on the ground all at the same time,” Asiya stated.
“We could try to knock down the gate. If we get close enough to set up a good shield wall to protect ourselves from the archer platforms, we might be able to buy ourselves enough time to tear it down,” Alcander put forward.
“I like that idea,” responded Actaeon as he sat forward with an enormous smile. He even cracked a few knuckles as if he were readying himself to go and rip the gate off the palisade right then and there.
“That might just be our best bet. We’re still going to have to deal with those archers in the towers and prepare ourselves to deal with a Snow Lion shield wall between the walls,” said Marcus.
“We might have to resign ourselves to the fact that we’re going to take some casualties doing this, but I think we have the numbers to pull it off. We can get those banners, I know it,” said Gaius.
“Might it be possible to recruit some of the other units to help us out?” asked Linus.
“Hmm, doubtful,” Marcus replied. “As far as I know, they’re all busy fighting amongst themselves trying to seize the Black Viper’s banner. And besides, why would we want to share those banners with anyone else? We already have a perfectly even split here, to introduce another unit would be to invite needless conflict into this alliance, no? Once we get those banners, we’ll pass them out and then return to our own camps. Nice, clean, simple. We won’t fight against each other until the alliance has fulfilled its purpose and been subsequently disbanded.”
A short silence filled the tent after Marcus finished. It was unbelievable that the Black Vipers had held onto their own banner despite having five units constantly trying to seize it. However, Tiberias had been leading his unit around and purposefully stoking violence among said units, preventing them from forming a cohesive alliance like the one against the Snow Lions. It wasn’t so much that the Black Vipers had been holding the other units off by force of arms, but rather that Tiberias had been luring the other units into depleting themselves attacking each other rather than his unit.
“Anyway,” Marcus continued, “We can try this plan about assaulting the walls with a shield wall and trying to bash down the gates. That’s probably our best chance for success. Anyone disagree?”
No one spoke up, so Marcus said, “Well then, no reason not to do this as soon as we can. How about tomorrow night, just after sundown?”
Again, no one said anything. Their plan was set, so they left the command tent to get some rest. They had a long day ahead of them when they woke up.
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
I Dewa Bagus