The next morning, we were all standing with heavy hearts as four people stood in front of us, looking back at us.
Today was the day that the ones who had been picked by the Year 2 class would leave us Maidens temporarily.
Celsus was downright choking back sobs as he looked at us, while Marana was standing there as quiet as she usually was.
Iole’s eyes blazed with fighting spirit despite her taciturn self, and Marrok... Marrok was standing separately from everyone as he stared at the trail’s beginning fixedly.
That is, until I slapped him on the back heavily and he turned, growling in anger, until he saw that it was me.
“So,” I said cheerfully as I stood beside him.
Grimacing at me, Marrok said, “I’m injured.”
Slapping my head, I exclaimed, “Oh, that’s right!”
Then grinning, I continued as I held out my hands and a set of armor and weapons appeared in them, “I suppose being injured, you don’t want these, do you?”
Almost lightning fast, he grabbed all the items out of my hands and clutched them to himself as he shook his head frantically.
Laughing, I said, “I thought so. All of your armor and weapons are there, and there’s also a little something I left for you extra.”
Leaving Marrok as he rummaged through his stuff, I moved toward Sia, who was standing with the other three.
Standing behind her, I summoned another set of armor and weapons, which Sia passed to Iole.
Exchanging a few words with her as Iole nodded, Sia moved to Marana, who looked on with a flicker of interest as Sia said, “We didn’t have an axe. But we got some construction materials with a hatchet included in them. So if you wan-”
Softly interrupting her, Marana said, “I want.”
Grinning, I handed her the hatchet along with her set of equipment, which she took with a nod and a smile! A smile!
Wide eyed, we stared at her before she ducked her head down, blushing.
Dragging our eyes away, we moved to Celsus, who finally let loose with the waterworks as he blubbered and pulled the two of us into a bear hug.
Finally squeezing out of his embrace, we patted the big softie on his back a few times, and just then; Sir Liam rounded the corner of the trail.
Walking toward us with his hands clasped behind his back, he interestedly looked around at all our faces.
Apparently satisfied at what he saw, he nodded before he turned to the four and said, “Today, you join Year 2 and have the honor, yes sir… the honor of studying double the amount that your comrades have to.”
Paling, the four looked at Sir Liam who beamed back at them.
“Do-Double?” Celsus asked in a quivering voice.
“Mmhm, if not more,” Sir Liam said agreeably.
Paling further, it was Iole who asked, “But what are we studying?”
Frowning at her, Sir Liam said, “This is a Page Academy. Of course, you’re going to learn how to be a page.”
Glancing meaningfully at our community, which we had built from scratch, Iole looked back at Sir Liam, who coughed as he said virtuously, “Your studies begin tomorrow, so don’t worry about it. After all, we are an Academy and teaching you is our duty.”
This time, it was our turn to cough as we stared at the man askance.
I’m sure he would have blushed, but he was too thick skinned for that, so instead he changed the topic.
To one that made us wince.
“Before your comrades leave… Do you know why you lost them in the battle?” Sir Liam asked with a serious look on his face.
Sia opened her mouth before she hesitated and stood mutely along with the rest of us as we looked at Sir Liam.
Raising all five of the fingers on one hand, he said, “Firstly, you were too overconfident with your equipment and preparations.”
Nodding, we agreed with the man, as we were indeed overconfident.
“Secondly, in battle, there is no second choice. You have to live with your decisions and you have to make them fast.” He continued as he looked at Sia.
Bringing the third finger down, Sir Liam said loudly, “How many of you are in the combat team? Step forward.”
Confused, the members of the combat team stepped forward.
“Hunters!” Sir Liam called out, and the hunters stepped forward.
Pointing at the ones who had stepped forward, he said, “These are warriors.”
Turning to point at the rest of us, Sir Liam asked, “And what are you?”
Stunned, we looked at the man as we understood his words.
Biting her lips, Sia asked, “What about Year 2?”
Smiling a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, Sir Liam said, “Warriors, all of them.”
Sucking in a deep breath, we looked at each other before fresh determination flared in our eyes.
Bringing the fourth finger down, Sir Liam said slowly, “The fourth problem is… that you divided yourself into teams… and yet in battle, you fought as one single unit despite your tactics.”
Frowning, Sia asked, “What do you mean?”
Elaborating, Sir Liam said, “Your enemies in that battle were like four fingers clawing deep at you. They were capable of acting together initially, and coordinated with each other despite splitting apart later.”
Pausing, he looked at us before he said softly, “As for your formation? It failed because you have no practice in working separately and yet together in a battle like they had.”
As murmurs ran through our ranks, we realized this too was true, and it hit hard. Especially since we referred to ourselves as the Maidens, and yet we fell apart the second our formation was broken.
Then, Sir Liam brought down the fifth and final finger as he clenched his fist and said, “The last is that you did not know your enemy. But that is through no fault of yours.”
As silence fell, he continued to say, “Now four of your people are going to the enemy’s ranks. If there is anything you have to say to them, say it now. I promise not to overhear.”
A brief moment passed before Sia said calmly, “That won’t be necessary. We don’t require moles in the enemy ranks to win next time. They are Maidens. But they are also people of honor. Isn’t that right?”
As a cheer answered her words, Sir Liam smiled as he said, “Well done.” and then turning, he began walking to the trail, leaving his voice trailing behind, “You four, once you’re done with your farewells. Follow me.”
Solemnly we looked at the four, and Sia who stepped forward as she shouted, “Maidens. Our comrades are leaving us for a short time. What do we have to say to them?”
“Hooah! Hooah! Hooah!” Came the roar from behind her as we stared at them unblinkingly.
Joining in, the four raised their fists into the air and then, marching to the end of the trail, they went out of our sight.
They were followed the entire distance by our gazes, and we stood there for a long time before we dispersed.
For tomorrow, our conjectures would be proven to be correct.
If it was the former, then we were safe.
If it was the latter?
We didn’t want to think about the latter.