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87 March

    What the hell did he mean by cutting off 10%?! This wasn't supposed to be a negotiation! Brigand had sent his items here with a certain profit margin in mind and Alma couldn't fathom failing her master.

    Just when she was about to erupt, Derrick spoke again.

    "That 10% is what you'd owe me after the sale. Basically, I won't be taking anything from the market, at least for now. Consider it a gesture of goodwill"

    Derrick's heart ached when the words left his mouth, but it was necessary. If the market failed, it would set a terrible precedent, and he would also lose the only merchant that currently had access to a variety of products.

    Alma's temper took a 180 when she heard Derrick's justification, and a huge smile appeared on her pretty face.

    "You should have said so sooner..."

    Derrick shrugged the remark before leaving the establishment.

    Now that everything was in order, it was finally time for him to focus on himself, to get stronger.

    After his spar with Thomas, his mind had been muddled, and only recently had he found out why the fight had been so perilous...

    "I need spells... Strong spells... But before that, I need to be stronger"

    Derrick went back to the City Hall, but couldn't enter, still unwilling to face Lacha. He found a guard near the entrance and asked him to deliver a message that he'd be absent for a while...

    ***

    Morning shone through, and Eloise groggily got up. Her night had been a complete nightmare, with her barely sleeping through it.

    "So much to do..."

    Her head still ached from the overbearing stress she was under, but she had to go through it. Derrick was right about this being a test, and if she couldn't even lead this mission properly, she would shame everyone that had supported her education and upbringing.

    With her tired eyes, she looked at her quarter. They weren't fancy at all, and were as basic as one could ask, with barely no color whatsoever. At the center was a table with a map and everywhere else was messy, with clothes, armor and weapons lying around.

    "I have to clean this up... If Master were to ever walk in..."

    The thought shamed her, and she shook her head.

    "It's time to focus! Today's the big day"

    While dressing up, she walked to the table and observed the map on which all the targets were identified. Every detail was indicated on that map, and the plan she had laid out was honestly the best there was, at least in theory.

    She focused her attention on the first target, which was the closest village from them, at approximately 30 kilometers east of Akata. Its name was Albanel.

    The village was one of the biggest targets, and if they managed to subdue it quickly, the troops would have enough momentum to sweep away the remaining ones without too much difficulty. This was one of the fundamental lessons Eloise had been taught. In a war, the momentum and state of mind of your army is everything.

    After eating the reminder of last night's meal, she donned her armor and left her room. It was finally time to get this whole thing going.

    She walked towards the command center, and every soldier she met on the way bowed to her, almost in reverence. Her career had mostly been strategizing so far, so she wasn't used to being at the forefront.

    On her way there, she met her second in command, Atta. The ex-chieftain had undergone a massive transformation, and went from a previously weak individual to someone that was now respected from all ranks.

    "You don't look so hot"

    Atta examined Eloise's state and couldn't help himself. The fiery commander truly looked awful.

    "Don't make me send you at the bottom of the barrel... Is every group ready for departure?"

    "Yes, General. The provisions have been made and the targets, assigned"

    "Great, begin"

    Atta bowed to Eloise before promptly leaving towards the barracks.

    No more than an hour later, 800 soldiers were lined up in the field, carrying backpacks filled with provisions and wearing iron armor. Of course, there were also those wearing bronze and steel armors, defining their positions in the squads.

    Eloise climbed a roughly assembled podium and looked at them attentively, to the point where some started questioning if they had done something wrong.

    "You know why you're here, right?"

    Her words were sudden, but everyone could clearly feel their weight and intensity. This was what they had been preparing for, what their jobs entitled.

    The atmosphere's temperature increased a few degrees and everyone's blood started madly rushing in their bodies. Everyone present were soldiers that had been chased away by their Empire, which meant it was only the second time in their lives picking up weapons.

    However, they couldn't be more pumped. They were powerless before, but not anymore. They had a goal now, something to defend again. A new reason to live.

    "AHHHHHHHH"

    All the soldiers yelled towards the sky to answer their General, which grinned on the platform. Her words definitely had more impact than she anticipated, but seeing the morale of her troops that high was always a good sign.

    "Now, I'll just remind you the general lines of the plan. You'll be split into 8 groups of 100, which are all assigned to a village. Once you have arrived at the site, surround them and cut off their roads and supplies. If they try to engage, back away before restricting their options once again. Under no circumstances is anyone allowed to engage without reinforcements from other groups. We are there to win and minimize losses, not to play hero. Anyone disregarding these orders will be severely punished. That's all! Everyone except group 1, MARCH"

    The soldiers once again roared and began marching. Their training had been hellish ever since Eloise's arrival, and they had to say they were in the best shape of their lives. It also gave them confidence to cross the forest safely, as groups of their sizes deterred almost all the wildlife present.

    It wasn't long before Eloise, Atta and the group of 100 soldiers were alone in the fields.

    "When are we leaving?"

    Atta was a bit curious as to why Eloise didn't move, but the General simply shushed her second-in-command, which took the hint. Someone else was coming.

    Right on cue, Thomas arrived, geared up with shining, steel armor.

    "Sorry if I'm late. I honestly overslept..."

    Eloise gave him a nasty side eye, causing Thomas to shudder. That woman really was terrifying once she got on your case.

    As for Atta, he simply disregarded the comment. He was just glad to see Thomas arrive, as it honestly meant a much easier campaign. He was sure that with him at their side, they would effortlessly go through all the opponents.

    "Now that everyone's here, let's march!"

    Eloise's commands resonated and everyone started moving.

    "WAIT!"

    A feminine voice made its way into the General's ears, and when she turned around, she endlessly cursed Thomas in her heart for his tardiness. The voice obviously belonged to Moira.

    She was running towards the trio, equipped with top gear and a backpack. It appeared that they had a new companion...
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