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549 First Battle

 Lize looked at the cluttered mess on her desk and sighed helplessly.

She stood up and turned to Gillian who was smiling cheekily. "Little Lize, you're still not used to it after so long?"

"I'm really sorry, Miss Gillian. I'm..." Lize shook her head hopelessly.

Frankly speaking, she had attempted to take up the responsibilities bravely. However, she realized that there were so many matters that she had to be concerned about whenever she received crucial information. She would feel overwhelmed and unable to provide accurate answers. From the beginning, Lize tried her best and the mercenaries of the Cloud Summit Fortress performed decently. As for the Reformist Party, apart from randomly causing a commotion, they hadn't launched any large-scale attacks. Lize was hoping that they would never attack, or perhaps attack only after Rhode returned... This way, she could stay away from the dangers.

But it was a pity that the heavens didn't satisfy her wishes.

"We don't have too much time left, Little Lize. According to Little Joey's report, the Southern Legion is coming for real this time. Of course, we can't just look on without lifting a finger. After all, this is a mission that Master handed to our care. So then, do you have any good ideas?"

"... I think I'll need to think about it a little more..."

Gillian raised an eyebrow and looked at the young lady with a shrug. "Little Lize, the enemies won't be that nice to give you time to think, okay? You should notice this too, right? Don't tell me you've been dazing off into space during the meeting?"

"N-No, I wasn't!" Lize waved her hands frantically. She gazed at Gillian with uncertainty and didn't know what to say. She eventually lowered her head and nodded slightly. "I do have a plan, Miss Gillian. But I think it is too risky and there are many unknown risks that I haven't considered. What if I failed to..."

"Thinking about failures even before you win? You indeed have the qualities of an Adjutant, Little Lize. It seems that Master wasn't wrong about you. But... why must you worry that much?"

"Eh?" Lize lifted her head abruptly and stared with widened eyes as though she couldn't believe what she had just heard from the Fire Elemental Lord... "M-Miss Gillian, how can you say something so irresponsible? If I don't consider the risks, everyone might get into trouble due to my negligence. What would I do if that happened?!"

Gillian was unfazed by Lize's somewhat agitated behavior. Instead, she casually swayed her tail and stood to her feet, looking right into Lize's eyes. Lize felt an indescribable pressure that forced her to close her mouth and her breathing hastened. However, she continued to lift her head stubbornly. At this moment, Gillian broke the silence. "I don't know if everyone will fail due to your negligence, but I'm sure that if you continue to have this mindset, you're bound to fail."

"Eh?" Lize looked blankly.

"I've been waiting for you to wake up to reality, but you're still harboring such thoughts. This makes me disappointed, Little Lize... This isn't only about you, but you also made me lose my bet. It seems that Master was right. It is too hard for you to realize this problem yourself. Sometimes, you just don't seem to get what you want..."

"Mr. Rhode?"

"Yes. Actually, before he left, he has specially told me to guide you along when you're out of ideas. But I didn't abide by his instructions because I believed that you're more than capable. However, now it seems that Master understands you more than I do. I didn't expect that you would be troubled for so long without realizing the solution in front of you."

"Miss Gillian!" Lize stood to her feet and yelled. "Why didn't you..."

"Why didn't I tell you earlier? You can't blame me, okay? I thought you'd be able to realize it since it's such a simple matter. Master seems to be confident in you so I didn't say anything. But instead, you failed my expectations and I'm very disappointed!"

"Urgh..." Lize was speechless to the fox-eared young lady's forceful grumbles. Aren't I supposed to be the one angry here...? Why does it seem like Miss Gillian is more furious than I am? What exactly is going on?

"Alright, enough jokes. Let's talk about serious matters," Gillian chuckle and clapped upon seeing Lize's awkward expression. "Little Lize, you said that you're not sure if everyone will succeed due to your negligence... right?"

"Yes..."

Lize nodded slightly. This was what she was most troubled about. Before Rhode had left, he assigned Lize with the commanding role and it had given her tremendous pressure. Although Lize didn't make too many changes to the mercenaries' movements after Rhode left, she couldn't help but worry about the Fortress every day. She was worried that Joey and Randolf's groups might be ambushed and the Reformist Party might launch their attacks on the Fortress. Initially, she wasn't worried about these situations, but now that she had become Rhode's representative, she was expected to possess such awareness. Wasn't that... right?

"That's all wrong, Little Lize," Gillian's words pointed out her hesitance bluntly. "We're living beings who have thoughts and not puppets who will only move under one's manipulation. Little Lize, you're only neglecting their values whenever you're thinking about this. That's right, you hope for a perfect plan so everything can run smoothly without any loopholes. But this only exists in your ideal and reality is never perfect. You're alone and it's only right and nothing wrong that you neglect something. Even when you've overlooked something, we're here to help you. You just have to accomplish what you can do and we will fill in the gaps for the other areas. Or maybe, you never believed the companions that have fought with you?"

"I..." Lize was at a loss for words.

The fox-eared young lady's words were like a steel hammer pounding on her heart. She finally realized why she had always been feeling anxious and distressed. Perhaps, her subconscious mind realized that her actions were as though she was despising her companions. Just as Miss Gillian said, they are not puppets. They are humans who can think on their own feet for survival. They have their own thoughts and perspectives. But my head has always been occupied by the ways of handling the mission that Mr. Rhode has appointed me... That's right. Mr. Rhode has put me in the commanding role, but he didn't say that I should hold the mercenaries' hands and guide them step by step, right?

Lize thought it through and she felt that she had been enlightened.

This is such a simple reason, so why haven't I realize it until now?

Lize looked up at Gillian, but this time, the urgency in her expression had vanished. "Thank you for your reminder, Miss Gillian. I think... I have a solution now..."

"You made me lose my bet with Master. I will make you pay for my loss next time, Little Lize. Alright... I will inform this matter to that pervert and I shall leave the following matters to you, okay?"

Gillian winked cheekily, placed her hands behind her back, and hummed her way out of the meeting room leisurely. Lize lowered her head and heaved a deep sigh of relief. She took over the intelligence report by her side and her expression became stern once again.

"This time, I will succeed..." She muttered under her breath.

Just as Gillian had predicted, or perhaps much earlier than she had predicted... the Reformist Party's army had finally moved out. After receiving the investigation result from Gillian, Garcia quickly dispatched his scouts to fish for information and they eventually gathered the exact numbers on the enemies. "8500."

This slovenly-dressed man kept his smile. He stared at the high-ranking military officer before him and the exhaustion between his brows was exposed. Although the Southern Legion wasn't entirely powerful, they had the upper hand on numbers. And even though the Cloud Summit Fortress had replenished its manpower, they had only about a few thousand troops. Furthermore, Garcia knew that battles shouldn't be judged based on the situation on the battlefield. Recently, there had been plenty of 'good news' for the South. Their granaries were destroyed and the Undead Army emerged in their turf... Heh. Garcia was excited when he read the reports, but he didn't expect that karma got back at him. The desperate Reformist Party had decided to stake everything in one throw.

But must you mess with my Fortress out of all the possibilities?

Garcia was clear that the enemies didn't dispatch their soldiers solely to attack his Fortress because their real motive was to pass through his defensive line and penetrate Paphield. The Cloud Summit Fortress was based in a terrible terrain. After the enemies crossed the defensive line, a wide expanse of land would be awaiting them and Garcia's men wouldn't be enough to stop them at all. If that happened, it would be no longer significant if this Fortress existed or not. What was the point of the Fortress if it couldn't protect its territory? Moreover, even though Royal Highness Lydia had dispatched 2000 reinforcements of soldiers, the quality of the private soldiers were so bad that it left Garcia chuckling bitterly.

A helpless expression emerged on the 'Red Fox's' face only for a few seconds because he knew that he would lower the morale of his men as the Fortress Commander. He quickly expressed a frivolous smile instead. "Heh heh, those guys seem to be really anxious. But that's fine because this way, we'll have a chance to show them our might! Don't worry, there may be a lot of them, but they lack discipline! Don't mind them! Everyone, get ready. Once they arrive, we will teach them a lesson!"

"Oh oh oh!"

Garcia's words pumped up the officers in the meeting room. They smacked the table before them and left the room in smiles. Garcia heaved a sigh of relief, loosened his bowtie, and wiped the sweat beads on his forehead. Then, he realized that an unexpected guest had stayed behind.

"Oh? Isn't this Miss Lize? Is there any matter? Oh, by the way, thanks for the intelligence report you've provided me with earlier. I didn't expect those bastards to dispatch so many men. But with us and your Guild around... Yes, and that half-beast-half-Mage young lady. There won't be any problem with our Fortress, don't worry!"

"General Garcia," Lize stood up and approached him with an unprecedented stern expression. She handed a thick pile of documents over. "These are my thoughts and plans for this upcoming battle. Please take a look."

"Oh?"

This was the first time Garcia looked Lize straight into her eyes. He let out a cheeky laughter and took over the papers. He read through them briefly. "Hey, Miss Cleric, I didn't expect you to have such military talents. This really surprises me greatly. Let me see... Hmm?" Garcia carefully read through the papers. The 'Red Fox' was no longer frivolous and all-smiles. Instead, his expression was replaced with dignified seriousness.

The meeting room was in complete silence apart from the rustling of the flipping pages. Lize stood quietly by the sides, clenching the hem of her skirt and looking nervously at Garcia. Seconds passed and Garcia finally closed her proposal with a soft 'bam'. He turned around and sized up the young lady sternly. "Did you come up with this, Miss Cleric?"

"Yes, General Garcia. The enemies don't seem to be intending to take down the Fortress. They merely want to restrain us because the Paphield Plain is just behind us. As long as they restrain us successfully, we will not be able to dispatch soldiers to stop their next move and they will reach their goal. So we have to be prepared for it."

"So, this is your preparation?"

"Yes, General Garcia."

"..." Garcia pondered in silence. After a brief moment, he pointed to the proposal. "Although your proposal is great and I believe in your Guild's capabilities, it isn't fully perfect yet... Miss Cleric, don't you think that you've neglected a point which is a fatal loophole? If you can't convince me about it, I will not approve."

Lize gave a rare and confident nod. "Just as you've said. My proposal is still lacking, but, General Garcia, I do have preparations for that part. Miss Gillian is off to search for the crucial helper... I can guarantee, General Garcia, that person will be able to accomplish this task. This is Mr. Rhode's suggestion, so there will not be a problem."