215 True Enemy
"Oh?" Zehr raised an eyebrow at Gianna, chuckling softly, "Haha... Was I being too obvious?"
"I think you've performed appropriately, Decanus. Not everyone is well-versed with grappling techniques." Gianna revealed a wide, knowing smile, "Might I challenge you to match, sometime?"
The Decanus scoffed, "Tss. Really, Munifex Gianna..? Grappling is not my strong suit... but perhaps after we're out of danger, we can have an instructional match or two."
Rena raised her hand, "I would like to request a private grappling match."
"Hm," Zehr placed his hand on his chin, "Perform well, today, and I might accede to some of your requests--"
The archer fainted, plopping dramatically onto her side.
"R-rena?? What's wrong?" Gianna knelt down and gently shook her friend.
"...though likely not to the extremes you seem to keep alluding to," Zehr finished, frowning.
Justus furrowed his brows. What did Gianna mean when she complimented Decanus Zehr's 'theatrics'? He racked the concept around in his brain...
Unable to decipher the puzzle on his own, he decided to ask directly, "Gia, what did you see?"
Gianna smirked and looked to Decanus Zehr.
Zehr raised an eyebrow, "I, too, would like to know."
Gianna sighed and waved a finger, "The way you rolled around with Decanus Ferrutius was unnatural. You were obviously using your own momentum to make it look more violent."
Justus began to link the formerly illogical events of the fight. The whole flow of Zehr's duel had changed... after he disarmed Ferrutius! Zehr must have said something to him while they were grappling. The whole fight after that was just a farce...
His eyes shot open in sudden realization, "Hold on, Decanus! Were you only pretending to--"
Zehr interrupted Justus by holding a splayed hand out, "Not so loud, young Munifex. I have my reasons."
Justus felt his face heat up in embarrassment. He lowered his voice, "But why, Decanus Zehr? You could have beaten Ferrutius easily?"
Zehr smiled gently. The Decanus closed his fist and tapped it on Justus' armor, "Know your true enemy, Munifex Justus."
Justus scrunched up his face... "My true enemy is myself... If I always strive to be better today than I was yesterday, no enemy can defeat me."
Zehr gave a troubled smile, "Well spoken, but I was actually referring to the Iredar-- the uh... kobolds."
"Oh..." Justus scratched the back of his head, "Right."
"I saw it better to win Decanus Ferrutius' respect and gain his support than to embarrass him too thoroughly and gain a new enemy."
"O-oh..." Justus hadn't even thought of Ferrutius' pride. He suddenly felt foolish and small-minded... He had a long way to go if he wanted to be a leader.
"Brother-Immortal," Zehr turned to the old veteran, Modestus, "Gather anyone with the Ranger or Scout class. I'll be leading them ahead of our little cohort."
"Eh... Come on, Decanus," Modestus stroked his grey beard, smiling playfully, "You sure you wouldn't rather send Gianna instead of this tired old man?"
Justus pursed his lips in confusion. He'd never seen Modestus talk back to Caelistis.
"I would not. I prefer her company to yours," Zehr explained simply.
"Ohoho," Modestus chuckled, "Fair enough."
"And besides, why would I feel any remorse about sending an Immortal to complete my tasks?"
"Oof, well, I can see that this handsome face isn't wanted around the young folk," Modestus saluted, "Decanus."
Zehr nodded, "Go with honor."
Justus averted his gaze. It seemed Gianna was blushing at Zehr's off-handed remark but the Decanus hadn't noticed.
It was a bit low of him, but he was glad that Zehr didn't seem particularly interested in Gia. If the Decanus did choose to pursue her romantically, Justus was afraid he wouldn't stand a chance.
His childhood friend, Rena, was overtly forward in her advances... even though she was as much of a virgin as he was. But still, Zehr remained professional.
...That was probably why she wasn't shy about being forward. Zehr projected an aura of professionalism and safety that he only previously really got from Gianna. But concerning safety, Gia had a Class that let her literally keep people safe with her shield.
He couldn't really understand why Zehr felt that way, but he didn't feel alone in his thinking. Besides Rena and Gianna, everyone in the tent group seemed to implicitly trust their new Decanus.
"Decanus Zehr," Shield Maiden Gianna grinned.
Zehr hesitated, "Yes, Miss Gianna?"
"Are you accepting volunteers for your scout team?"
Zehr looked up the blonde woman up and down, before returning his own reserved smirk, "It depends who's asking."
Justus fixed his posture and stood straight, "Decaus Zehr, please allow me to accompany you on the mission."
Even though he knew he wasn't good enough, he wanted to learn from the Decanus... The way he moved, the way he led... The man inspired him.
The Decanus put a hand to his chin, eyeing him judgmentally, "So eager to die, are we, Munifex?"
Justus felt the sweat forming on his back, being under Zehr's scrutiny, "No, Decanus. I just want to help."
Gianna picked up her shield and leaned over it, "I'll be coming with him."
Justus gulped, averting his gaze away from the leaning Gianna's cleavage. Was she doing that on purpose?
"I didn't think volunteers were so plentiful." Zehr crossed his arms, smirking, "And I don't remember accepting volunteers, in the first place."
"Well, you haven't told us no, yet, Decanus," Gianna placed her hand over her mouth as she giggled.
Zehr, Justus, and Gianna all looked down at the grounded Rena, expectantly.
She sat up, dirt and leaves in her brown hair, "I wanna go too!"
"I suppose you can come too." Gianna absentmindedly touched her finger to the beauty mark next to her lips, "The Decanus said he'd protect you, after all."
Decanus Zehr sighed helplessly, though he wore a subtle smile, "Very well, you three. Gianna, Rena, coordinate with Munifex Modestus. I want the forward team to be off in fifteen minutes."
"Wh-what about me?" Justus asked.
"You'll be coming with me, Munifex."
Tycondrius led the forward team through the forests, along the streams. He hadn't told his tent-group the entire truth about the team's purpose. He had wagered something... and that wager had paid off.
In less than two bells of travel, the scouts returned to him, reporting that they had found kobold tracks. With the alarming rate and frequency, they estimated a settlement was somewhere nearby, full of dozens to hundreds of Iredar.
A possible attack on the village would buy the Rhodoks the breathing room they needed to escape north, to the walled village of Montegarico.