Palan knocked twice on the door before pushing it open, not waiting for a response. Raea frowned, but didn’t comment as she followed after him into the room. Lieutenant Sharr raised an eyebrow as he closed a binder on his desk and stared at the intruders. They weren’t wearing their armor, and the only visible weapon was Anidun’s dagger which hung on Palan’s belt. “Lieutenant Raea,” Sharr said, his brow slightly creased. “And Palan. I wasn’t expecting you two.”
“Sorry to drop by uninvited,” Raea said and dipped her head downwards. She glanced at Palan. “Palan insisted on coming here.”
Palan pulled up a chair and set it down across from Sharr’s desk. A tiny lizardman followed by a wolf slipped into the room before the door fully closed. “You can relax,” Palan said to Sharr as he sat down, ignoring the pouting Raea as she pulled up her own chair. “I just wanted to ask you a few questions since my contractor is an airhead.”
“Hey,” Raea said and pinched Palan’s arm. He brushed her hand away and crossed his legs while staring at Sharr. Raea turned her head towards Cleo who appeared by her side. “Am I really that clueless?” The orange lizardman blinked and scratched her scaled cheek as she stared into Raea’s eyes. The angel sighed. “Please don’t look at me like that.”
“Why ask me though?” Sharr asked Palan as he leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms.
“I’m assuming you’ve been around longer than most people since you’re a lieutenant,” Palan said. “Interrogating ordinary soldiers is probably a waste of time.” Palan took out a pouch from his bag and dropped it onto Sharr’s desk.
The corners of Sharr’s lips turned upwards as he slid the pouch towards himself. “What did you want to know?” he asked as he leaned forward and placed his hands on the desk, clasping them together.
“Why did you think we were dead?” Palan asked.
Sharr tilted his head. “No one ever came back after attempting to subjugate the lizardmen city. The first time Captain Ishim sent a group through—I think it was around three years ago—everyone thought it’d be done within a week, but none of the squad members ever came back. People were alarmed at first, but that kind of thing just happens, you know? People die all the time out here. It wouldn’t be unusual for a squadron to fail.
“After they hadn’t come back for two weeks, Captain Ishim sent another group and they were also never heard from again. He doubled the numbers for the next try, and they failed again. Even the scouts sent to the lizardmen’s territory never came back alive,” Sharr said and raised his head to look at the ceiling. “Eventually, it became a running joke. When Captain Ishim didn’t like someone, he’d send them out to subjugate the lizardmen camp—at least that’s what the soldiers say. That’s why I was surprised when you two made it back alive. There were maybe twenty attempts made over the past three years, and you’re the first ones to make it back.”
“Why didn’t Captain Ishim personally go to investigate?” Raea asked and furrowed her brow. “Surely he must have thought something was wrong.”
“And die?” Sharr asked. “He spent fifteen years rising up to that position. Why would he throw it away over some curiosity? In the end, he just changed the plans for the fourth outpost and shifted the road out of their territory. That hasn’t stopped them from raiding it though which is why Lieutenant Malak is positioned in the third outpost.”
Palan nodded. “Tell me everything you know about Ishim: weaknesses, strengths, personality.”
Sharr scratched his head. “I can’t tell you much about his weaknesses and strengths because I’ve only been in correspondence with him. I haven’t met him in person for about three years.”
“Around the time the lizardmen city became a problem? Tell me about his personality then.”
“Huh.” Sharr grunted. “Yeah, that’s about right. Ishim and I go way back; we were both soldiers in the same squadron working under Captain Fei. At that time, the first outpost was barely established and under assault from all sides: lizardmen, goblins, snake people, harpies, centaurs. We were even harassed by fishfolk in the rivers. Captain Ishim was really spirited at the time like he was working for a goal or trying to impress someone. He chased after merits, volunteering to lead squadrons into the most dangerous areas. It was odd, considering the fact that he was an orphan raised in the third sector. He was promoted pretty quickly and became a lieutenant.
“I worked under his squad for the next few years. He made sure to take care of his subordinates, which is why I stayed with him. He commanded from the front using his powers of temperance to pave the way. After we were in the army for five years”—Sharr’s face hardened—”the great betrayal happened. T—”
“What’s the great betrayal?” Palan asked.
“It was Anidun’s attempted coup,” Raea said. Sharr nodded.
“Anidun led a group of angels and attempted to take over the council. He failed, and the majority of the angels that followed him were executed. Only a few archangels managed to escape, but they were all badly wounded: Anidun, Meffi, Abaddon, and Solra are some.
“Anyways, after the great betrayal, Captain Ishim changed. He started sacrificing his men for the sake of the goal, pushing them into even greater areas of danger while commanding from the rear. He literally worked the conquered halflings to death, forcing them to build roads and construct outposts. Captain Fei acknowledged his work—he practically doubled the number of outposts—and the long time survivors of his squad became lieutenants while he was promoted to a captain. As for Captain Fei, she retired and returned to the first sector. I bailed as soon as possible and formed my own squad because I didn’t want to die for someone else’s ideals. I secured myself this nice cushy spot right here.
“It seems like he mellowed out over the past three years though, as if he finally achieved what he was working for. The rate of expansion slowed, and now it seems like he’s trying to repair his old bond’s with his squadron. Of course, I don’t think many of his men would readily forgive him,” Sharr said and shrugged. “I wouldn’t. I’ll never forget that time a centaur nearly ripped my testicles off while he was working at a desk.”
Raea made a face, but Palan was completely unfazed. Cleo looked confused. Palan nodded and said, “I see. That was helpful.” He stood up and Sharr smiled at him.
“Anytime,” the lieutenant said as he watched Palan leave with his entourage. The door closed behind them and he reopened his binder, picking up a quill. He counted the essence stones in the pouch he just received and smiled as he wrote down a number onto the page.
Outside of the room, Raea was questioning Palan. She asked, “That was all you needed to know?”
Palan nodded. “Knowing your potential enemies is a key to survival.”
Raea pursed her lips. “Then what did you learn?”
“Enough.” A man who rested on his laurels was like a dulled blade. Palan nodded to himself. His blade was still sharp. He glanced at Raea and frowned. Even if someone insisted on trying to weaken it.