The Terrifying Vera
"Alright, men, we're in enemy territory! Whatever we do now, we do it quiet and keep it low!" Kurdak yelled.
"Listen to your advice, would ya?" Vera snapped.
Kurdak had tried very hard to convince her to stay at the fort, but she wouldn't. The two were at the point of biting each other at one point. But Kurdak knew Vera's teeth were sharp.
"I was trying to set the mood," Kurdak complained.
It had been three days since they set out. They had exited the valley and were now Stokian territory. Kurdak naturally couldn't blindly lead his unit into dangerous areas and start fights mindlessly. Even bandits knew to use the correct tactics.
He had been familiarizing himself with every man in the unit for a couple days now. Though he had a grasp of their habits, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses when he picked them, he needed to know them better.
He wanted to know each intimately so he could use the team to its fullest potential. It was tough, however; most of the men under Alissanda were basically walking meat slabs. They answered only when Kurdak questioned and they didn't smile even when Kurdak pulled out his best jokes.
It felt like he was talking to a wall. It was boring and uninteresting, but he had to soldier on. In pursuit of his goals he had started acting weirder and weirder, occasionally doing things one would expect from the insane Marolyt.
How strict is Alissanda? he found himself wondering from time to time.
He was mistaken, however. The one in charge was mostly Jast. He made sure to only pick men even more stuck up and strangled by their laces than he.
"You look like you're having a tough time, Boss." Leguna half-smiled.
"Yeah, only you understand me..."
The burly man was almost in tears. None of his companions bothered with him or cared about his troubles. Only his little brother understood him.
"Do your best, Boss," Leguna said solemnly, "It's time I went my way."
"Ley..." Vera clutched his arm.
"I'll be fine. I might even be back before you guys!" Leguna smiled.
"You better come back alive, you hear?!" she threatened, eyes red.
Leguna nodded to Kurdak and turned to Eibron.
"Oh. Cheers. I won't need to send you off then," Eibron replied habitually, "Hey, wait! Where are you going?"
Leguna had not told him about his part in the mission. Apart from Kurdak's unit, Alissanda, Tamro, and Jast, nobody knew where he was going.
Leguna didn't answer, waving as he left.
"He's pretending to be cool again..."
Eibron didn't bother trying to find out. He knew that Leguna must've gone to undertake a secret assignment.
"It's midnight. Should we set up camp?" asked a knight.
The man looked as old as Kurdak, so he was likely in his forties. Everyone called him Jeff. He had decades of experience and everyone knew him.
"We'll keep going."
"But... we've been marching for three days. We will be in bad shape if this goes on," Jeff warned.
"No. Everyone is at least 11 strata. Riding for a few more hours won't be a problem. We have to get to our position as soon as possible. We're behind enemy lines, there are too many unknowns. If we don't arrive early and familiarize ourselves with the area, I won't rest assured."
Jeff calmly accepted the order. He had little reason to oppose his temporary boss, his real boss had told him to follow this man's lead after all.
"They're really disciplined, I'll give them that," Kurdak said.
"Naturally. Unlike you, they don't laze around all day and go to sleep without washing their legs," Vera snapped again.
The team continued thusly and arrived at their designated position a day ahead of schedule.
"The routes are known Stokian channels, but this area is in ruins; a good place for an ambush." Kurdak said after inspecting the terrain.
Uneven terrain had advantages and disadvantages. While the group could use it to hide, the enemy could as well. If the enemy set up an ambush, it would be hard to discover it beforehand.
Kurdak frowned as he pondered their options.
"It would be easier if Ley were here. A shame... Gana."
"Scout the area. Especially here."
Kurdak circled an area of the map as he spoke.
Gana was a 13 strata warrior verse in stealth and subterfuge. He couldn't compare to Leguna, but he was a lot better for scouting than a brute like Kurdak.
"Pretty big. It will take some time," the man said.
"I know. That's why I had us come over ahead of schedule. Don't worry, we have time," "I would send out a few more guys, but we can't be discovered and only you are good at stealth."
"I understand," the warrior nodded.
"I know a thing or two about stealth as well," Eibron said proudly.
"You? Why would you know a thing or two about it?" Kurdak asked.
"Why wouldn't I? You've never bothered to ask, that's all."
Kurdak had spent the past two days understanding his new teammates, but he had forgotten about his old friend. It came as no surprise. Kurdak presupposed Eibron's abilities since he thought they already knew each other well.
"I can't be completely quiet like Ley, but I can do at least eight-tenths what he can. It should be more than enough."
Leguna had told the ranger his real name, but the first name given often was the one that stuck.
"Good. Then go with him."
"Alright! Treat me to drinks when we get back!" Eibron shouted as he left.
"Aren't you being too serious?" Vera asked.
"No," Kurdak frowned, "We weren't subtle when we stole the intel. They probably expect us to go after Haden. Alissanda said Haden is an arrogant man and might not mind it but I wouldn't play along if I were him."
"So you think this is a trap?"
"I don't know. If Haden is more careful, he might just change his routes. If he's as arrogant Alissanda says, he might overestimate his convoy's strength and not bother to ambush us or change the routes at all. But I can't shake the thought that he will make good use of this chance to get at the prince."
"You're hiding something."
"You're overthinking things," Kurdak said, though his gaze wavered.
"Tch, why so secretive?" Vera pouted. "Just tell me if you can't say it. Don't need to try to hide it from me. Don't think I don't know about your secret chat with Alissanda! He must've told you something!"
When had she grown brains?!