9th Zi'da, Andaris City
Wrapped in his red woolen cloak, Rafael ploughed his way through the snow and onto the courtyard. He’d drifted through the last few trials of Zi’da unsure whether awake or dreaming while his brow had settled into a constant frown. Any day now he expected to be halted and arrested for his involvement in the liberation of Qe’dreki prisoners just a season ago. So far however, no one had come and on Olyfer’s advice, Rafael had continued to lay low and do as was expected of him.
With Malcolm pre-occupied in the Eastern Settlement, Rafael was put under the charge of Hector Avern, the only Major mad enough to insist on training outside, even in the blistering cold of Cyclus. No longer did he enjoy private tutelage, as he had under Malcolm, and sometimes Elyna. The war had taken its toll on the Iron Hand and there were many more students than there were teachers.
Guided by the dim light of twilight, Rafael searched for Hector and the handful of squires unfortunate enough to be under his command. Soon enough he spotted them huddled around a fire basket in the smaller, secondary courtyard of the barracks.
Upon being seen himself, Rafael was immediately greeted by a fistful of snow as it shattered against his shoulder. Harold, a lanky boy of about seventeen arcs with wild, curly hair and a mischievous smile laughed and prepared to send another projectile when Hector intervened. “Act your age!” he barked before turning to Rafael. ”You're late.”
Muttering a quick apology under his breath, Rafael hurried towards the fire basket and squeezed himself into the circle of shivering squires. There were about five of them in total, most of them about his own age with Harold being the eldest, and one thin, younger girl standing directly to Hector’s side.
“Now that all you lazy bums are here,” Hector said, “we can get started. There won't be any sparring today, but-”
“Can't we go inside?” one of the squires whined.
Hector whipped his head toward the young lad who already deeply regretted everything he'd said.
“Oh, is it too cold for you? Would you like mommy to make you a nice hot chocolate and give you cuddles?” A haughty, joyless laugh escaped Hector and his eyes roved over the miserable lot of them. “How exactly do you all expect to fight the enemy when you can't even bear a little cold, huh?”
“What enemy?” Rafael challenged as the brunt of Hector's stern gaze settled upon him. “The Qe'dreki have been defeated, haven't they?” The question was a deliberate one, hoping that perhaps the Major would elaborate on how much of a threat the Iron Hand considered the Qe'dreki to be.
“You were Malcolm's squire, were you not?”
“Then I am surprised to find that he hasn't taught you that the enemy is never defeated. If not the Qe'dreki, we have faction VII to worry about, and if not them, some uprising is always just around the corner. The enemy is never defeated and it is high time you all learn to see the bigger picture.”
“What picture?” the girl at Hector's side piped up. She was a small thing, yet fierce looking with neatly braided hair and a wild look about her.
“I'm glad you asked,” Hector smiled.