Indigo, Jason, and Emory were lined up by the training hall doors when Ken arrived, but he stopped short when he saw the rest of the class lined up against the wall as well. He passed the first three to stand before the next trainee. “Explain.”
The young woman gulped, but didn’t look away from the paladin’s gaze. “As members of the Order, we will face unique challenges in the field that other guardians will not understand. As such, it is important that we know we have one another’s support. The Order stands united, sir.”
Ken stepped back to better take in the entire class. “Are you all of this opinion?”
The first three remained quiet as the others responded with a unanimous “Yes, sir.”
Ken cut his gaze to the trio closest to the door. “Do you share their sentiment?”
The three acolytes looked at one another before Indigo spoke up. “We appreciate their support, sir, but we did not ask them to join us. We are the ones who messed up. We should be the ones to bear the consequences.”
“Indeed,” Ken replied. He turned to the rest of the class. “You are right that it is important to support one another. Your magic sets you apart from the rest of the world. Your brothers and sisters within the Order are the people who can best understand the challenges and hardships you will face. But know what you are supporting before you take a stand.” He pointed to the three by the door. “They screwed up. By standing here, delaying your training, are you supporting their mistake? Are you telling them it’s ok to start petty fights in the middle of lunch? Commander Turner is correct: they are the ones who messed up. But since the rest of you decided to stand with them, you will share the consequences.”
He proceeded to berate them all for a lack of awareness of their surroundings, losing their tempers, and retaliating with magic. “As Dawn’s Light commanders, you already have more authority and power than any other guardian on the planet. Acolytes accepted into the Order are trained to refine their magic to the point being able to kill with little more than a thought. If any you give me one more reason to doubt your ability to keep that power in check, I will not hesitate to send you home.” He swept his eyes over the class. “That goes for all of you. There will be no second chances.
“Normally I would send you back to the first day of training for such behavior, but since that was yesterday, I’m going to have to get creative.” He paused to check the time. “You have two and a half hours to complete this afternoon’s training. You will have twenty minutes for dinner and then report here immediately afterwards. I suggest you cancel any plans you may have made for this evening.”
“But sir,” one of the acolytes interrupted with a raised hand. “You’ve already assigned three hours of homework for tonight.” His voice faltered as Ken turned an icy gaze on him, and he weakly added, “… that we can do afterwards…”
Ken looked over the class once more. “You now have two hours and twenty-eight minutes to complete your tasks. Go.”
Teamed up with Jason, Indigo tried to focus on their exercises but was distracted by concern for her partner. They had spent years working and training together, and he had always been patient, easy-going, and level-headed. He was the last person she would expect to pick a fight, but she could feel his fire magic building as she watched the confrontation. She knew she had to act to keep a good man from making a terrible mistake.
She intended to ‘accidentally’ stumble and fall into Jason, allowing her to spill her drink on him to break his focus and quench his magic. His shove as she stepped between them sent her (and her stimjuice) in the wrong direction, and forced her to take more obvious actions.
Now, working their way through the assignment, she tried to ignore Jason’s grumbling tirade about the unfairness of the impending punishment. She glanced up to him and the sticky, berry-scented stain on the side of his face and realized the redness extended beyond the edges of the dried stimjuice to a spot on his neck that he kept scratching.
“Admiring your work?” Jason smirked when he caught her glance. He sighed before she could respond. “I’m sorry, by the way. I didn’t mean to push you.”
“No, you meant to push Emory, which isn’t any better.” Indigo countered. “Are you all ri…” The rest of her words were cut off as the training hall doors opened and Angela entered. Everyone in the hall noticed she was wearing armor.
Jason followed Indigo’s gaze and paled. “Kroodles,” He muttered under his breath. Indigo looked at him and quirked a brow. “I was hoping she was coming to take over training for the rest of the afternoon,” he stammered.
Indigo turned her attention to Ken as he stepped away from the trainees to speak with his wife. Even at a distance Indigo could see the concern in his eyes, and the brave smiles they put on for one another were painful to watch. She averted her gaze as they moved closer to one another for a kiss. When she looked back, Angela was gone.
“And he lectured us about being aware of our surroundings?” Jason’s voice wavered and he looked sick.
“Were you under a rock the entire time we were in Commander training?” Indigo shot back. “She was missing and presumed dead for four months. She’s only been back a few months, and they were just bonded a month ago. She’s wearing armor, which means she’s heading out on a mission — the first one since her return. And given our months of inactivity, whatever is going on must be big. I think under these circumstances the man is allowed to kiss his wife goodbye.”
“It’s good to know I have your permission, Commander Turner.” Ken’s voice came from behind her. “But right now I’m more interested in your progress on this afternoon’s exercise.”