Andri Minara shook his head and grimaced. It’s going to be a very long trip back to the Sandhoa.
The scene before him was familiar; Lya Katora stood between Britran Talavara and Sumiy Shikara with a hand placed lightly on each man’s chest.Andri didn’t have to hear the conversation to know they were arguing again. Lya looked ready to throw an ice wall between Britran and Sumiy who both leaned forward aggressively. Lya’s face was slightly pinched with concentration. Britran and Sumiy each had a hand on their hinazaphas. Though neither man had actually drawn the small, sharp weapon, their posture and free-hand gestures said they were seconds away from doing so.
The council may want to stop putting Talavara and Shikara on the same recruiting missions, Andri thought, knowing it was time to step in.
“What’s going on?” he demanded. From the way everyone jumped, especially the five little ones, Andri gathered he’d spoken louder than intended. He moderated his voice accordingly. “Britran, why don’t you take the children to their room and help them settle in,” he suggested firmly yet kindly to the fiery Warlock with least seniority.
“Yes, Andri,” Britran muttered, not sounding too happy with his assignment. Andri’s ears failed him as usual, but he could read the reluctant assent on Britran’s lips.
The five young recruits scrambled to follow Britran up the sturdy stairs of the Warlock outpost. Andri watched with some misgivings about the admiring looks the nine-year-olds gave Britran. Just what the Order needs, more Talavara. Of the Warlock Sainikulan, the Talavara were especially aggressive. While that was good on a battlefield, aggression led to interesting recruiting missions and made Andri’s jobs as mission leader and unofficial peacekeeper a whole lot harder.
Just get through the night, Andri encouraged himself. They’d been traveling back to the Sandoa for two days now; this was their second night. Tomorrow, if all went well and the younger warlocks didn’t kill each other, they would arrive home. Then, the children would be the responsibility of their new masters, chosen Abbandha or unfettered Warlocks, who would train them for the next seven to eight years. Of course, the Sainikulan representatives would show off every chance they got so that when the students attain Initiate status around their seventeenth birthdays they would be drawn to a particular family. Andri snorted derisively; thoughts about the Sainikulan squabbles irked him.
An exasperated shout yanked Andri out of his reverie.
“That’s not fair or true!” Lya’s voice rang out, loud enough for even Andri to hear fairly clearly.
Ah, Britran must be finished with his task. Where’d the night go? Andri shook his head to concentrate on the argument.
“Yes, it is,” Britran declared. “The Katora would have us all be free nursemaids for the Pashumar poor!”
“I half agree with you, my friend,” Sumiy said in a conciliatory manner. “We deserve to…”
Andri couldn’t hear the rest of Sumiy’s sentence, but he’d heard enough to know the younger Warlocks had returned to the adventure versus mercenary ideological debate.
It’s time to take a greater role in the Order. This wasn’t the first time the thought had struck Andri, and as usual, it gave him a chill. Ever since his early days in the Mercenary Legion where he’d promptly been wounded in a brief battle and lost his hearing, Andri had been content to quietly do his job in the Auxiliary Legion. Once about seven years ago and again about three years ago, Andri had considered fighting for a higher position in his Sainikulan, but both times he’d been content to let those with a keener sense of glory hunting outshine him. Andri forced these thoughts away to say,
“Everybody sit down.” His voice, as usual, was louder than he’d intended, but this time that worked to his advantage.
Lya, Britran, and Sumiy sat in a semi-circle around the middle of the outpost’s leisure room. Andri took a seat as well so as not to appear superior to the others.
“Thank you,” Andri said, fixing a warm smile on his face and making sure to hold eye contact with each person. “This random infighting is unhealthy, but discussion is good so let us discuss our Sainikulan differences, shall we?” Andri wasn’t blind to the fact that his hearing impairment made the others more sympathetic towards him. He took full advantage of the good feelings and capitalized on them by moderating his voice so that it was both warm and inviting. His tactics stole some of the hostility from the younger Warlocks. “Lya, would you like to begin?”
“I told the students there are lots of opportunities to be an adventurer,” Lya began, clearly stating a Katora view on the subject.
“Which is complete rubbish,” Britran Talavara interjected. He concentrated hard and gathered enough flame Jitadi to make a small fireball. He tried to act casually about it, but Andri knew he was concentrating very hard to accomplish the small feat. “We need to stop these pathetic mercenary contracts and demand those under our protection pay us well!” Britran cupped the fireball for about three seconds before letting it dissipate. “If we don’t, we’ll simple burn out for no good reason.”
Andri waited a half second, knowing Sumiy would say something. He was not disappointed.
“The Pashumar at Kintal pay fairly well. We should take more jobs from them,” Sumiy suggested.
“But some people can’t afford to pay!” Lya said in an annoyed tone that made it clear they’d gone over this already. “Protection from the Devachan should not have a price tag on it!? Think of the Cadamar. Stopping the Devachan is key to the Cadamar.”
“How is the Or-” Britran began.
“Does it not depend on the situation?” Andri broke in reasonably. “The Order must take contracts to survive, yet it must also be ready to stand by all threatened by the Devachan. That is why we must overcome these differences. The Order must be whole to be strong. It’s why our recruiting mission is just as important as my brother’s mercenary contracts with the Vrikas Pashumar.”
He paused to let that encouragement sink in. He knew it was necessary to ease the stigma of not being “good enough” for the Mercenary Legion which lay upon all in the Auxiliary Legion. He’d gotten over that about eighteen years ago, but he knew how much it rankled the younger Warlock’s sense of pride.
“We need to recruit less,” Sumiy insisted, bringing up a common Shikara view that the Order was growing too quickly.
“Less?!” Britran practically shouted. “We only took five this time! We need more recruits. Dhati says the Cadamar will come to a head soon. We must be ready!”
Dhati Talavara may be wise on the Ruling Council, but even a 7th degree of our Order can be mistaken. The Cadamar may not be for ages. Andri kept these thoughts to himself.
“Ready in mind and body, yes, but Jerahn Anashabay himself taught us that the Cadamar is a constant life battle against evil,” Lya pointed out.
Since they were all maintaining semi-civil tones, Andri thought they might be calm enough to call a truce. He took Lya’s statement as a jumping off point for his final speech for the night. “The Cadamar may be both. It is our lifelong struggle, the reason why we do what we do. But all struggles have a culminating point, and what we call the Cadamar is probably some event that lies ahead of us. Whether that time be soon or in a far off age, it is our duty to recruit those strong in Jitadi, train them as Warlocks, and fight against the evil that threatens ourselves and those under our protection. Now, we have a long walk ahead of us tomorrow; I suggest we all retire.”
Andri got up and held his hand out to help Lya up. Instinctively, Britran and Sumiy followed suit. With a bow, Andri left the room and went to his room to think.
The Warlocks are split far more than Rudra Minara and the rest of the Ruling Council will admit, far more than I want to admit. Andri shook his head sadly at the realization. It’s time to be more, a voice whispered inside Andri again; this time he agreed.
Yes, it is time to fix the breaks in the Order. It’s time to be more than simple, sympathetic Andri Minara. From this day on, Andri Minara is reborn.