Ken wend his way around the crowded tables of the dining hall, his eyes on the vacant chair next to Angela. He set his lunch tray on the table and gave his wife a kiss on the cheek before claiming his seat. “Good morning, Beautiful.”
“A little late for that, don’t you think?” She quirked a brow. “It’s after noon.”
“I didn’t want to wake you. Rett and I went to the Training Hall before work. ”
“I noticed there were two dirty cups in the kitchen this morning.” Angela lifted a mug to her lips and tried to act casual as she sipped her tea, but an eager gleam lit her eyes.
“You were right about Rocky,” Ken admitted with a smile. “Thank you reminding me that you always know what I need.” He glanced across the room, where Rett was seated with Theis and Evy. “Things are still a little awkward. He no longer feels like I betrayed him, but he’s still hurting and angry. It’s going to take some time, still, but at least now we can talk.”
“Does this mean you’ll start singing again?” She didn’t try to mask her concern.
“I haven’t really had the need to lately.” Ken shrugged and tried to keep his tone light, but there was a bitter edge to his words. “Evans won’t let me near anything potentially related to the Alfath, and training acolyte candidates doesn’t exactly tax my skills.”
Their discussion was interrupted by a squeal from across the room, and they looked over to see Evy leap over the table and fling her arms around Rett in a tight hug. Rett flashed Ken a smile over her shoulder.
Angela looked at her husband and lifted a brow.
Ken smiled and nodded to Rett before turning back to his wife. “We figured out a way to reinstate her in the Order while holding to the Director’s request that I keep a low-profile.”
“I sent a proposal to Evans’ office that we convene a three-person committee made up of Rett, a representative from Admin, and a tenured member of the civilian faculty here at the Lyceum. They review Evy’s records and petition to rejoin the Order, come to a conclusion, and I abide by their decision. That way the decision is made by an impartial committee instead of the potential Alfath sympathizer.” Ken couldn’t hold back a smirk.
“Rett isn’t exactly impartial about Evy.”
“No, but he is Evans’ choice to take my place as Head of the Order, so he has that going for him. Assuming they approve her return, he could rightfully claim it as his doing. Politically speaking, I’m the only one who would lose out, and you know I don’t care about politics. Evans’ office has already approved it. Anne will be their representative.”
Angela’s smile became brittle, and Ken regretted bringing up her former protégé. “Anne’s a good choice. She’s always taken her duty seriously. She’ll be thorough and fair.”
“Hey! Watch it!” A shout rang through the crowded dining room, drawing all eyes to the far side of the hall where Jason Wolfe faced off against Emory, one of the other acolyte candidates. On the far side of the confrontation, Indigo stood at the head of a growing gaggle of people trying to exit the food service lines.
“Kroodles!” Ken swore. “Sorry, Ang, I better go rein them in.” He rose from his seat to went his way around the tables towards the standoff.
“If you don’t want people running into you, you shouldn’t block the path.” Jason sneered at his classmate.
“You could have said something instead of slamming into me!” Emory countered.
“Or you could just get out of the way!” Jason tried to shove his opponent but at that moment Indigo decided to push her way past both of them.
She stumbled as Jason struck her, and a bright red arc of stimjuice flew from the cup she carried. Catching her balance, she shot her hand out towards the airborne juice and clenched her fist. The juice reversed direction and flew back into the cup. The silence of the dining hall was broken by a whistle of appreciation. The whistle was quickly followed by gasps as Indigo flicked her fingers open and the juice once again lept from the cup to drench Jason.
Stalking towards the confrontation, Ken lifted a hand and shimmering spheres formed around the trainees. He twisted his wrist to turn his palm up, and with a twitch of his fingers the shields and students rose a half meter off the floor. He stopped before the gleaming bubbles and folded his arms across his chest. “Two days.” He fixed them with a frigid glare. “You can’t even make it two days into the program before you start acting like juvenile swamp apes.”
The lights lining the tops of the walls flashed amber and a recorded voice came over the hall’s speakers. “Citadel: Priority Alpha.” The announcement repeated twice more, summoning all paladins to report immediately to the mission briefing room. A murmured undercurrent rippled through the dining hall as the paladins left behind their lunches and made to the exit.
The three hovering acolytes remained silent, their eyes locked on their trainer. “Lunch is over.” Ken’s expression and voice were glacial. “You will wait for me in the Training Hall. You will not begin your exercises. You will not speak to anyone. Understood?” At their nods, he turned to join the other paladins leaving the hall. The shields surrounding the acolytes dissipated as he stalked out the door, and the three thumped back down to the floor.