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2: Oh Sharon, What Have You Gotten Yourself Into?

Fifteen minutes later, in the briefing room of the Swordmasters...

Maleek says, “We are the only three squads available for duty. Lord Wrazen has borrowed the majority of our division’s squads away to escort him back from the Outside World.

Jackal says, “What a bad timing. Aside from your squad, who else came?”

Maleek replies, “Gideon and Driesen’s squads.”

Jackal raises an eyebrow. “Gideon? Any other squads at our disposal? I don’t want him in this mission.”

Maleek is puzzled. “You want to dismiss his squad? You said we need all the manpower we can find for this mission. What’s wrong with Gideon’s squad? His squad is newly formed, I’m sure they’ll be eager to perform.”

Jackal clears his throat. “Gideon’s squad is full of under-achieving losers. I’m appointing you as the field leader. I’m counting on you to lead this mission to success. I don’t want Gideon’s squad to receive any success credits from this mission. Should you need to use his squad as sacrificial pawns, then do it.”

Maleek says, “I will do my best.”

* * *

And so Jackal thinks he could speak so loudly in the briefing room without my squad hearing every single word.

Sharon is furious over what she just heard. “Gideon, what’s wrong with our Commander? He seems to have a great dislike for our squad.”

Kang Yu has seen this many times. “You have a sharp observation. Jackal’s grudge is especially aimed towards Gideon and anyone associated with him, which unfortunately includes us squad members. Looks like my career path as a Swordmaster is going to be a rough one.”

My relationship with Jackal is a complicated one. We started off as good friends during our teenage years, but an unforeseen circumstance tore us apart.

Sharon says, “Could Jackal be worried that you would surpass him in this career? He would do everything he could to stay ahead of you by suppressing your opportunity to rise in the Swordmaster ranks.”

Kang Yu says, “Now we know why Gideon secretly fantasizes that one day Jackal would bend down and become his right-hand man.”

Sharon is very fired up in her speech. “Back in the Academy, we had met trainees who tried to bad-mouth their own peers in order to curry favor with our instructors and make the rest of us look bad. These kinds of people do not go far in their career. Cousin, I believe one day you will overtake Jackal in your ranks. With such moronic attitude, I assure you that he will not stay at his leadership position long enough.”

I don’t have any problem believing Sharon’s statement. But I think she might have just landed herself into some trouble by saying that statement a little too loud within Jackal’s hearing.

Kang Yu grabs Sharon’s arm. “Ssshh...lower your voice. I think Jackal overheard you saying that.”

But it’s too late!

“Hey, you lady there!” Jackal’s voice thunders through the entire briefing room, aiming specifically at Sharon.

Sharon tries to feign innocence. “Who? Me?”

Jackal’s eyes look like he could swallow an entire human. “Yes! You! Why are you talking in the middle of my briefing?”

Sharon tries to keep her composure. “My apologies, Commander. But I thought the mission briefing has not started yet.”

Jackal says, “I don’t care if the briefing has not started. But if I’m around in this briefing room, you’d better not make a single noise there. It’s my rule.”

Jackal’s rule? I am certain that he just made it up a few seconds ago in order to throw Sharon off.

Sharon says, “Commander, I really have no idea you have such a rule. I just joined here from the Academy. In our Academy, there’s no such rule.”

Jackal says, “Ah… then you’re the ignorant one. You don’t know such rule exists and you only have yourself to blame. Who is your squad leader?”

I step up to defend my cousin. “Sharon is under my squad. She’s new here. Maybe we can let her off on this one.”

Jackal claps his hands sarcastically. “Gideon! Why am I not surprised at all? So this is how you teach respect to your underlings? Talking while I’m present in this briefing room. And she dares to talk back to me in a disrespectful tone. In my squad, I enforce disciplinary action immediately whenever my underlings make a mistake. You’re the squad leader. I dare you to slap her in the face in front of everybody to teach her respect.”

Sharon looks a little shaken by that statement. “I’m so sorry, Commander. I won’t do it again.”

Kang Yu whispers to me, “Gideon, you know that Jackal is trying to put you in a tight spot. If you fail to listen to him, he would immediately report you up for failing to discipline your squad members. This would make it harder for you to be commended for future promotion. You’re the squad leader here. It’s your call.”

I know exactly what game Jackal is trying to play. He’s trying to humiliate me and Sharon while intimidating my other squad members. If I disobey his order, he would report my action up, which in turn would affect my squad’s performance evaluation. On the other hand, if I were to comply with Jackal’s ridiculous request, he would continue this abusive relationship into the future.

Would a slap on Sharon’s face make all the problems go away?

Jackal says, “Gideon, are you going to discipline her or not?”

The air in the briefing room is very tensed. Swordmasters from three squads stand quietly waiting to see how this unnecessary drama unfolds. “I believe we have a more important mission at hand rather than worrying about Sharon. I’ll deal with her later.”

Jackal’s face darkens. “You’re a coward for not willing to discipline your own squad member. Fine, if you don’t want to do it, then I’ll make an example of her myself.” He walks over to Sharon and raises his hand.

In a blink of an eye, I stretch my hand and stop Jackal’s. My voice is firm. “Nobody lays a hand on my squad members without going through me. Like I said, I’ll deal with her later.”

Jackal pulls back, claps his hands again. “Very well, Gideon. You behaved exactly how I expected you to. You just refused a direct order from your superior. By our military laws, that act is punishable.”

Jackal takes a step closer to my ears and whispers, “I’ll deal with you after this mission. I assure you, your punishment will be severe.” Then he walks back to the front of the room to prepare for the mission briefing.

Oh no, have I gotten myself into trouble? I look at Sharon and silently gesture to her that everything will be alright.

* * *

Jackal proceeds with the mission briefing. “An hour ago, our scouts encountered New Haven’s team in the forest at the outskirts of our City. They were smuggling Marked Ones from the Outside World into our City. We suspect that they are temporarily camping at an abandoned mansion on the hill while waiting for their portal to New Haven to open.

“New Haven’s end objective is to turn the Marked Ones into an army and conquer our City. It falls to our duty to thwart their plans and protect our City. Our mission is to capture the Marked Ones before they return to New Haven through the portal.

“If the Marked Ones die, they will return as ghouls. New Haven may use this to their advantage. A ghoul’s strength is triple of an average human’s. As long as you’re not outnumbered by them, you can easily defeat them. But if their numbers are too large to handle, always run away.

“There is another concern. You may encounter the Masked Assassin during this mission. He is protecting the Marked Ones. When our scout team found the Marked Ones in the forest an hour ago, the Masked Assassin single-handedly wiped out the entire scout team and sent one survivor back with this message: Do not interfere or you will die.

“The Masked Assassin is known for his fast attack speed in taking down his opponents in a blink of seconds. Don’t go one-on-one with him, he will destroy you. Face the Masked Assassin as a team, and you’ll be unbeatable.

“Should you capture the Masked Assassin alive, your squad would receive additional performance credits. But remember that the main goal is to capture the Marked Ones. In the bigger picture, for every Marked One we capture, New Haven would lose their army strength. Thwart their operation many times enough, we’ll eventually cripple their entire operation.

“Maleek has been specially trained to fight an enemy like Masked Assassin. Therefore, I appoint him as the field leader for this mission. Driesen and Gideon, your squad will take orders from him. Is everybody clear about the mission details? If you’re unsure, don’t ask me. Ask Maleek. Now, dismiss.”

* * *

As the other Swordmasters prepare to leave from the headquarters, Sharon walks to me and apologizes. “Cousin, I’m so sorry that you had to step in and defend me for my own mistake. I should have backed down and just shut my mouth. But now I have dragged you into the mess I created.”

I say, “Look, it’s not your fault that Jackal is picking on our squad.”

Sharon gives me a hug. “Thanks for standing up for me. I will always remember what you did for me today. Beyond just my dear cousin, you’re truly an amazing leader. I will support your effort to make our squad the best among the Swordmasters.”

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