"Your intel informed us of a formidable presence here in the western end of border," Alissanda began.
Though Kurdak was the leader of the team that stole the documents, he hadn't read them before handing them in. They were military secrets and he had no intention of getting embroiled in state espionage more than he already was.
"The man brought a lot of supplies with him, and, if my guess is correct, he probably came here for something very specific."
"What?" Leguna asked.
"...He's here to assassinate you?"
"That's what I believe," the prince nodded.
"Don't look down on His Highness! The Gold-eagle Brigade hasn't lost a single battle since he took over. Sacred Golden Eagle Alissanda is known across the continent! His Highness's death would be a huge blow to the empire!" Tamro was quick to interject.
"Wow... I totally couldn't tell," Leguna mouthed monotonously.
"Is it that magus?" Kurdak asked.
Saron had tried to assassinate the prince before, so he was naturally everyone's first guess.
"I don't think so, no. Saron acts on his own and does whatever he wants. He most likely came after me on a whim," Alissanda shook his head, "It should be Haden this time."
The name felt familiar to Leguna.
"Yes. He's the ranking commander in this part of the battlefield on Stok's side at the moment," Alissanda explained, "It seems he's here with the express intent of shaking things up. He must not be happy that things have been relatively calm here."
"What does Your Highness want from us?" Kurdak asked.
Alissanda stretched out three fingers.
"The supplies Haden brought will be transported to the frontlines along three routes. We need three high-order warriors, each leading a small team of ten. They'll each take watch over one of the routes and wipe out the convoys as they pass. It isn't important that the teams work well, we the task is simple, after all. Strength is far more important for this one. Jast and I can lead two units, but I'm short one high-order warrior. That's where you come in, Mister Kurdak."
"Me? What makes you trust me with this? I'm sure there are a number of more qualified people here in the fort."
"Three, yes, but they're military commanders. They're used to commander large formations, not small teams. You're the most suited to this operation," Tamro chimed.
Kurdak wouldn't turn down such respect. Besides, this was a good chance to prove his leadership capabilities to the military.
"Vera and Ley will join me."
"Vera is fine, she was going to be part of the team anyway," Alissanda replied, "But Leguna..."
"What about me?"
"I have a different mission for you. I want you to kill Haden."
"What?!" Kurdak jumped, "What's Haden's strength? Can Ley even do this?"
"If our intel is correct, he should be a 17 strata assassin," Alissanda answered.
"17 strata?! Don't you know how to count? Ley's just a mid-order 14 strata assassin!"
This time it was Vera's turn to panic. They were willing to help Alissanda out, but they were not willing to put their lives on the line for him. It didn't seem like he cared much for their lives, anyway.
Alissanda was not surprised by their reactions. His gaze remained fixed on Leguna.
"You up for it?"
"I am," Leguna answered after a moment's thought.
"Don't be rash, Ley!" Kurdak yelled.
He knew Leguna's true abilities. Killing a 17 strata assassin was possible, but it was far from a certainty. Haden had a reputation as a sly fox. Leguna might be able to best him in a straightforward fight, but it was unlikely he would get one if the other side was expecting an assassination. He had defeated Balor, but Haden had far more experience. There was more than a decent chance Leguna might not make it through alive.
"Don't try to talk me out of this, Boss. I have to do this," Leguna said, standing up, "I'm confident I'll succeed. Trust me."
Kurdak gave up when he saw the determination in Leguna's eyes. There was no point in even trying, he was not going to chance Leguna's mind. Even if he got Leguna to say he wouldn't do it, the brat would most likely just do it behind his back.
[Feeling impatient?] Gahrona asked.
[Yes. I've decided to take over the bureau, so I have to prove myself somehow. This is the perfect opportunity to do just that.]
Gahrona didn't bother trying to stop him either. What teacher would hinder their students' progress?
"Then it's decided. We'll set out in two days. Kurdak, you can take your pick of my men to fill your team," Alissanda nodded satisfiedly.
They made their preparations quickly. Kurdak made his picks for his team that afternoon. Alissanda promised his men would obey Kurdak unconditionally. Even if the order meant death, they would follow it.
Kurdak was initially concerned over the unit's discipline, but his worries quickly vanished. The prince was a major figure, after all. His words carried a lot of weight.
Unexpected news came to the fort that night.
Kurdak, Vera, Leguna, and Eirinn were having dinner.
"Promise me you guys will be careful. Retreat if anything feels suspicious or goes wrong. I don't want anyone to put their lives on the line," Vera nagged.
She was especially worried about Leguna. As carefree as she mostly acted, she cared deeply for her companions.
"Big Brother..." Eirinn murmured.
She didn't know the details, but she instinctively understood this was going to be a very dangerous mission.
"What's with all the nagging?" Kurdak said nonchalantly, "Ley's not that reliable most of the time, but he's never played loose when it come to his life. He wouldn't have accepted the mission if he weren't confident of his victory."
"Who are you calling unreliable?" Leguna asked, tears dangling on his eyelids.
A voice nearby caught Kurdak's attention just as he was about to speak.
"Two steaks and some beer!"
"Why's he here?" Leguna asked, the first to react.
"Eibron!" he called.
The ranger turned around and saw the group.
"Why are you here?" He asked, apparently also happy to see them.
He said something to his waiter and moved over to them.
"I did not expect to hear that. Have you really not heard about my harvester squad?" Kurdak bragged shamelessly.
"I just came here, so of course I haven't heard about you," Eibron jabbed.
"So why are you here? I thought you'd gone east?" Leguna asked.
"I can't stay there anymore," Eibron said bitterly, "That isn't a place people should be. I almost died a few times."
Leguna inspected the man carefully and finally noticed a scar on his handsome face.
"We asked you to come with us back then. You're the one that didn't want to listen. So, have you learned your lesson?" Kurdak mocked.
"I was too confident," the ranger laughed bitterly.
He had definitely changed. He no longer had that energetic air about him. He would have argued with Kurdak if this was the last time they'd met, but he barely even responded now.
"It's nothing like what either of us have experienced before. The smallest battle I took part in involved several thousand men. There is little an individual can do in those kinds of fights. I decided to come here when I heard Prince Alissanda had come here. It would be for the best if I can meet him and win his favour."
Kurdak was quite surprised. He knew Eibron's casual and easy personality hid a deep pride. It was not easy to win his respect, yet he sensed exactly that in the way the man spoke of the prince.
"Wait, don't tell me you haven't heard of Golden Eagle Alissanda?" Eibron asked, eyebrows raised.
"Of course we have!" Kurdak bragged again, "He's personally asked me to do a mission with him."
"Let's hear it, then," Eibron said, leaning forward onto the table with his elbows.
"Sorry, secret. I can't tell you without His Highness' permission. I can ask him if you can join... if you're up for it, that is."
The bureau's investigation of Eibron's background had not thrown up any red flags, so Leguna didn't think there would be a problem with him joining. Kurdak, however, didn't want to bring someone into such a sensitive loop without Alissanda's knowledge and permission.
"Of course I'm up for it!" Eibron half-shouted.
The prince agreed to let Eibron join the team when he was asked the next day. A competent marksman was always a welcome addition. The group left the fort secretly the next day.
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