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All ten units couldn’t face off against each other at once as everyone watching wouldn’t be able to focus on one single battle for very long. Thus, they would battle each other one pair of units at a time.
The Tribune who had decided who would face who also had control over the order in which they would fight. He wasn’t particularly interested in complicating matters, so he simply had them do battle in the same order as they had been picked.
Starting things off were the Silver Legionaries against the Steel Century. Normally, the Silver Legionaries would be loath to pit themselves against the unit led by Marcus Aeneas, but as they were fighting face to face on even ground, they didn’t hesitate to form up. There wasn’t any time or room for Marcus to think of any clever tactics making this as good a chance as any that the Silver Legionaries would win.
They still lost, though not by much. Both units’ shield walls were quite well formed, which meant that the fighting basically boiled down to shoving and pushing as each side tried to break through the other’s front lines. The only time this stopped was when the front lines moved to the back. When that happened, their shield walls would dissolve and it would take their second lines several seconds to reform the wall after the front lines moved past. Unfortunately for the Silver Legionaries, they were slightly slower in reforming than the Steel Century, leaving a moment where the Steel Century was fully formed up and the Legionaries weren’t. Marcus’ men didn’t hesitate to move and take advantage of this brief advantage, though they ended up being just a little overzealous, with their own lines breaking apart during their charge.
The battle was stopped when the winner was made clear, when only twenty Silver Legionaries still stood, with about half again as many remaining trainees from the Steel Century. But that also meant that there were about one hundred and fifty young men lying either unconscious or immobile on the training field. To fix this, the presiding Tribune had organized fifteen knights who were skilled in healing magic to wake the fallen trainees. After the victor was announced and the fight stopped, these knights swarmed over the casualties and pressed sheets of spell paper to their chests, waking up each trainee or returning feeling to their paralyzed limbs in seconds.
“Well done! Well done indeed!” shouted the Legate. He was referring to the performance of both units but he was also clearly happy that his nephew’s unit had won.
Next came the battle between the Obsidian Cataphracts and the Blood Eagles, which lasted quite a bit longer than the previous battle. Unlike the Steel Century—which had practiced quite a bit in their off time, so they could switch their front lines quickly—neither of these units had done much practicing outside of their morning training. This made them fairly evenly matched, so their battle lasted for almost an entire half hour until finally, one of the Blood Eagles in the front line stumbled on a small stone in the ground and fell down, creating a momentary gap in the unit’s lines that was quickly exploited by the Obsidian Cataphracts. The latter won, but by a much narrower margin than the Steel Century had, with only twelve of their men left against eight Blood Eagles.
Even though they had broken their opponent’s shield wall, it wasn’t until the very end that they had achieved a large enough numerical advantage for the presiding Tribune to end the fight and announce their victory.
After they were done and the medic knights tended to the casualties, it was time for the Crimson Tigresses and the Snow Lions to take the spotlight. As there weren’t nearly so many women who enrolled in the Knight Academy—or the Royal Legions in general—the Crimson Tigresses only had fifty-four trainees as opposed to the one hundred and four in the Snow Lions. This lead to Castor approaching Leon before the battle began to tell him how he had decided on solving the number disparity.
“Leon, your and four other squads will be sitting this one out,” he said.
Leon glared at him in alarm—the Crimson Tigresses were strong, and he had been eager to cross blades with them despite his resolution to distance himself from Valeria.
“I understand leaving out five squads to make the fight even, but why am I included in this?” Leon asked, doing his best to keep his voice calm and even.
“Relax, this isn’t an indictment of your skills, or the skills of anyone else not participating,” Castor said. “The Crimson Tigresses only have two third-tier mages, so I needed to have one of ours not join the formation. As for why it’s you, well, think of this as kind of a peace offering to Alphonsus.”
Leon clenched his jaw, but when he turned his eyes to Alphonsus and saw the other man’s barely contained excitement, he reluctantly agreed with Castor’s decision.
“Well, this sucks,” whispered Henry as he and the rest of Leon’s squad enviously watched the chosen Snow Lions form up.
“It is what it is,” responded Alain, seemingly content with merely watching but the way his hands kept balling up into fists painted a different picture.
“Best not to worry about it,” said Charles as he leisurely stretched his arms. “This basically means that we get the entire morning off! When was the last time that happened?”
“I guess…” Henry said, though he still wasn’t happy at being left out.
Their attitudes were mirrored in the Crimson Tigresses. Valeria and Asiya had been excited at the prospect of battling the Snow Lions, but they couldn’t care less about Castor or Alphonsus. Their excitement stemmed from testing their unit against Leon’s, and with him sidelined, their interest in the battle dimmed considerably. But that wasn’t to say they weren’t going to take the battle seriously—in fact, at being denied what they had wanted in the first place only enflamed their desire to crush the Snow Lions.
The two units formed their shield wall twenty-five feet from each other. The Snow Lions had to adapt their formation a little, with only ten men in the front line rather than twenty but keeping their five normal ranks. This meant that Castor had to shift some people around again, with himself as close to the center as he could get and the two second-tier mages in his squad on the flanks.
Facing him, the Crimson Tigresses had a nearly identical formation, with Valeria in the front and Asiya in the back. Asiya still carried her scimitar, but Valeria had swapped her glaive out for an arming sword, a weapon much better suited to fighting in the confined spaces of the shield wall.
“Begin!” called out the Tribune when he judged the two units ready.
As soon as the word passed his lips, Castor shouted “Forward!”
The Snow Lions surged forward in perfect unison, catching the Crimson Tigresses off-guard and immediately putting them on the defense. Castor was acutely aware of just how dangerous Valeria was, so he was not about to give her unit a single inch. He seized the initiative and attacked first, slamming his own shield into Valeria’s and putting as much of his strength and body weight behind it as he could.
He wasn’t surprised in the least to see Valeria standing easily firm, but he wasn’t seeking to defeat her specifically, he only needed to keep her occupied while the rest of the Snow Lions broke through the Crimson Tigresses’ formation. Once that happened, victory would be all but assured.
But it wouldn’t be so easy. Valeria flashed him a slightly patronizing smile and retaliated far faster than Castor expected. He had only gotten in a single shield bash and had been about to follow it up with another as fast as he could when Valeria suddenly pushed against him. Her attack wasn’t a shield bash, she had instead charged into him in the split second he had taken to pull his shield back, bracing herself against the ground.
Castor barely managed to keep his footing, but he had been pushed back enough to leave a small hole in the Snow Lions’ shield wall. This gave Valeria just enough room to slash at the man to Castor’s left.
“GRRAGH!” Castor roared as he regained his balance and pushed back against Valeria. Fortunately for the Snow Lions, her attack didn’t connect with it’s intended target, but it didn’t have to. The other Crimson Tigresses in the front line had performed similar moves, knocking almost half of the Snow Lions’ front line slightly off balance. They got enough support from the second line that they remained standing, but their shield wall was in tatters. They barely had enough time to reform their lines before the Crimson Tigresses charged again.
Unlike the previous time, though, the Snow Lions were ready and the front line had all the weight of the four ranks behind them for support. They braced themselves and took the Tigresses hit head-on, barely maintaining their shield wall.
“AGAIN!” shouted Castor.
The Lions surged forward, but the Tigresses were ready for their counter-attack. As soon as the Lions committed to their push, the Tigresses nimbly took a couple steps back and braced. This extra space drew the Lions’ front lines a step ahead of the ranks at their back and two Lions even slipped at the unexpected lack of resistance.
The Tigresses stabbed out with their blades, giving most of the Lions in the front line a good hit and the two who had stumbled an even harder time. One of these Lions was knocked unconscious and the other thrown to the ground.
“Shit…” muttered Leon.
“It’s only two guys, we can still recover!” said Charles hopefully.
As if to spite his optimism, the Tigresses pushed back against the Lions, taking full advantage of the two holes they had just punched in the Lions’ line. The Lions made a valiant effort, but they couldn’t reverse the situation after their lines had been breached. It took another five to ten minutes, but eventually, the Snow Lions were reduced to only fourteen men including Alphonsus and Castor, whereas the Crimson Tigresses had almost thirty, including Valeria and Asiya.
“Damn it…” Castor muttered as the Snow Lions rejoined their fellows. “I think leaving half our unit behind really threw us off…”
“A loss is a loss, but…” Leon began. While he spoke, Leon saw Valeria smile at him in a way that was both cocky and challenging. She was bragging at his unit’s loss at the hands of her unit and inviting a response at the same time.
“… we’ll have other chances,” he finished.
“Indeed we will,” Castor said. “And we’ll win next time!”
“Next time probably means during the FTX,” added Alphonsus. “We can bring our entire unit to bear at that time. Even if they use clever tactics again, they won’t be able to beat our numbers!”
“It’s not a good thing to rely on numbers, though. We ought to think of some clever tactics, too,” Leon responded.
“Wasn’t saying we shouldn’t, just that we’ll have a distinct advantage next time,” said Alphonsus.
“I wonder about that…” Leon said.
“And what does that mean?!” Alphonsus demanded.
“We… shouldn’t let them choose where we fight. It’ll undoubtedly be a place that’ll mitigate our numerical advantage, like a canyon or something. We should stack the deck in our favor by choosing a place where we can bring all our strength against them and hold nothing back. I doubt we’ll win otherwise…”
“I agree,” Castor said. “Ladies Valeria and Asiya are smart, we shouldn’t underestimate them in the slightest, and we absolutely can’t give them an inch.”
“You had a better view than either of us,” Alphonsus said to Leon, “did you see any weaknesses in their formation? Anything at all that we might be able to exploit?”
Leon responded by solemnly shaking his head.
The three Snow Lions would’ve continued to strategize in depth, but the next pair of units had gotten ready while they were talking. Seeing that the next battle was going to start, Leon, Castor, and Alphonsus re-directed their attention there. They could talk about the Crimson Tigresses later, but missing even a single detail from the other battles could put them at a disadvantage if they were to ever face them in the future.
Fueled by their loss, when the matches were over, the Snow Lions threw themselves wholeheartedly back into training. They took what they had learned from the morning’s battles and decided to focus on unit cohesion, syncing up their movements so that the first line wouldn’t advance alone again.
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