The three didn't understand what he meant.
"My subordinates are all good men," Tamro said, his head low, "They have parents, lovers, a few even have children. The war forced them away from their families. As their commanding officer, it is my responsibility to hold this fort. But their lives are more important to me. Stok's elites are too strong for them. We'll sacrifice at least 200 men if we fight them conventionally. But if we send you, even though there are risks, I doubt they'd be that great. It's selfish and unfair, I know, but I beg you, please help us.
Kurdak fell silent. He was not a heartless man. He could tell Tamro wasn't acting. However, the mission would indeed put Vera at risk, and her safety was most important to him. He prepared to refuse.
Tamro noticed. He stood up from his desk and bowed. He didn't say anything, his expression was enough.
No one spoke, an awkward silence ruled the room. They didn't think the fort commander would bed like this. He was an imperial general, yet he was begging three common mercenaries. They didn't know what to say.
"You don't have to do this. You..." Kurdak finally spoke.
Tamro had gone out of his way, but he could not accept because of Vera. He would exchange a hundred lives for hers without a moment's thought.
"I have to do this," Tamro insisted, "If my bow can save 200 of my men, I would bow a thousand times."
Kurdak searched for words with which to turn him down again, when…
"Just accept already," Vera said.
"Quiet, lass!" Kurdak snapped, "Don't think this is some sort of game. This is too dangerous for you!"
"Am I a burden now?"
"This is just too risky."
"When has it ever not been risky? We survived the Eye, this is nothing. Besides, we have you and Ley. I'll be fine."
"No, I'm still worried!"
"Kurdak! D'you remember what I said? We have to challenge ourselves so we can grow! I don't want to be a useless woman hiding behind your back all the time! I don't want to be a burden! I want to become stronger! I can't expect you to protect me all the time!"
She had always been strong-willed, but something was different this time. She would usually be slightly playful, but this time she was completely serious. She had indeed changed.
"Trust me this one time and give me this chance, okay?"
Kurdak stared at her for a while.
"Fine! We accept the mission!"
The group discussed the specifics with the general before they left. They decided to take the rest of the day to prepare and to leave in the morning.
Leguna also asked Tamro to look after Eirinn. He was still concerned about leaving the half-elf in a fort. Tamro agreed and promised he would have a soldier watch over her in secret.
Leguna finally relaxed when the general promised and left.
"Why do you have to act so humbly in front of them? They sell their lives for money. They don't deserve a soldier's respect," the magus complained.
"You might not know this, but they are true heroes," Tamro replied.
"Have you heard about what happened on Lance? You might not since you've never been there. I went there for a while when the empire set up its first bases. Eye of Arcana was the largest guild on the continent at the time. Even the largest in the world, maybe."
"How do they compare to the magi court?"
"They're better. The magi court has at best ten high-order magi, but the Eye has 14 easily."
The magus's face darkened. It never occurred to him that a rural dump like that could have so many high-order magi. The archmagi were nothing to be trifled with and every one represented a large force. But now, it seemed that the Eye had nearly double the number of the empire. That guild's power was not to be underestimated.
"According to our reports, these guys had a huge falling out with the Eye and had to leave the continent. They received some help from other factions, but besides that they went up against the Eye on their own. Their bravery deserves respect."
"They're nothing but a group lucky bastards," the magus rebutted.
"It's not just luck. That youth called Leguna..."
"What about him?"
"If he uses all his power, he could take us both. He killed a high order magus and knight when he had just eleven strata. He's incredibly powerful!"
Even the high-order magus's expression soured.
"Also," Tamro said in a hushed voice, "word is that he's set to take over the bureau soon. Even if I didn't care about respecting him, I have to care about respecting the bureau."
"You have to be careful," Eirinn said unwillingly. She really wanted to join them. She would give up everything without hesitation if he told her to, even if it meant going back to the battlefield.
But he didn't. This was a dangerous mission after all. He understood her personality and would never allow himself to go soft at a time like this. He'd regret it for the rest of his life. He stroked her face lightly as he spoke.
Don't worry! We'll be away for a month at most. We'll come back in one piece!"
"Pro... promise!" Eirinn insisted.
"I promise! Deal!" Leguna stroked her long, silver hair, "I won't lie. I said I won't leave you here alone, I'll keep my word! Trust me!"
Eirinn looked up and saw Leguna's confident smile, which calmed her down quite a bit. She nodded. "Okay!"
"Alright! If you continue to flirt, the sun will set! Why don't we leave tomorrow instead?" said Kurdak lazily.
"Forget it, they'll only go through the same thing tomorrow and we won't be able to leave then either," said Vera, going with the flow.
"Oh, how troublesome. I guess we'd better call the mission off then!" teased Kurdak.
"Shut up! What about the two of you, huh? What I said to Eirinn here can't even compare to your performance in front of the general! What with the 'I'll protect you' and 'trust me' and all that. Eirinn, I had goosebumps so bad that I felt that my skin would fall off entirely!"
"You dare talk back to me, brat?" snapped Kurdak angrily.
"Ley..." Vera approached Leguna with a cheery tone before harshly tugging on his ear. "Tell me, do you have a deathwish?! Huh?!"
"Ouououou! It's my fault! I'm sorry! Alright, let's go right now! Ack, don't tug on my ear! Sis Vera, please, not my hair either! Hey! Wait, let me bid Eirinn farewell one more time!"
"Why bother? It's not like you're parting for good. We'll be back in a few more days, so let's go!" said the two as they dragged Leguna along.
"Ack! Um, Eirinn, see you! We'll be back in a few days, so don't worry!"
"Bye!" wished Eirinn with a smile as she waved the three away to their next adventure.
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