Demonstration of Power
The surrounding people fell silent again. Kurdak could feel the soldiers' belligerent gaze all over his body.
Looks like we can't avoid a workout tonight, he thought.
"Yes, I'm Kurdak, your major," he told Blackie, "Get everyone who can still move together. I'll have a word or two with all of you."
Blackie gave Kurdak a judging once-over, then nodded.
"Tri, Quint, let's go!"
"Note the time," Kurdak told Vera.
An hour came and went while Blackie and his lackies went around gathering everyone. They started halfway and finished just to five.
"Looks like this'll be a pain," Kurdak murmured, feeling a headache threatening to blossom.
He glanced at the sweaty Blackie and, for all his trepidation, felt a hint of liking for the man. It took much longer than he would have liked to get everyone together, but it wasn't for the man's lack of trying. The people he had to gather were just too stubborn.
"Thank you," Kurdak said, shooting the man a warm glance, a good superior dealt fairly in reprimand and praise, "Fall in line as well."
"They're all lone wolves from their original units. You won't get anything done without substantial skill and effort," the man warned quietly.
"What about you?" Kurdak asked.
"That's for you to guess."
The man flashed him a brief smile, then took his place in the mass of people that couldn't honestly be called a formation.
"What's your name?" Kurdak asked as the man walked away.
"Blakest. My skin's more tan than anyone else's, usually, so everyone just calls me Blackie."
"You did well just now. I won't make trouble for you, for now."
"Good, that's more than enough," Kurdak returned his flash of a smile, then turned his attention to the mass of people staring at him.
"Alright, quiet down!"
His voice burst through the murmurs violently behind a wave of impetus. The men's shoulders tightened in a wave that ran out through the mass.
"Yes, Sir!" Blackie said cooperatively.
"What do you mean 'mostly'?"
"All apart from some special persons, Sir!"
"And who are these, 'special persons'?"
"The three magi from each regiment, and Londo, Sir! It's not that I didn't try, Sir, they are just beyond my ability to handle!"
"I'll deal with the magi," Annelotte offered helpfully.
"Thank you, I'll leave them to you, then." Kurdak nodded gratefully.
Magi were thorny people, even in the military. It didn't surprise him that they didn't listen to a mere warrior. Given that they were in this regiment, he could only imagine they were even worse than the normal magi when it came to accepting authority. He could probably beat them into submission, but he was not going to complain if another magi would sort them out for him. It would make things much simpler, and ease their future relationship significantly.
He pointed at Tri, one of Blackie's lackies.
"Take her to them!"
"Yes, Sir!" Tri nodded.
There was no point in being stubborn when his boss had already submitted, if only temporarily, to the newcomer.
"I'll tag along," Marolyt said, speaking for the first time.
Military unit or not, as the empire's only saint-rank, he could do mostly as he pleased, even beating up a few miscreants wasn't a problem, hell, even if he beat up the commander, it wouldn't be a problem. That said, Kurdak being his daughter's friend, it would be a problem where she was concerned, but the empire would certainly not even raise an eyebrow.
And his daughter was concerned in this matter, strong or not, she would always be his defenseless little baby, so he'd naturally protect her when she was amongst these brutes.
Alaine followed her two masters without a word.
"I'll go get Londo," Leguna offered.
He wasn't part of the unit, not even of the military, and he was a young little pipsqueak as well, so he had far more to prove than his boss.
"You, come with me," he said, pointing at Quint.
"Alright, let me make proper introductions!" Kurdak's voice bellowed again when the others had gone, "I'm Major Kurdak and I'm your commanding officer from now on."
"Sir! What were you before you joined?" a voice bellowed in return.
"A mercenary," Kurdak answered, a wry, mischievous smile creeping onto his face.
"What a happy coincidence. I was a mercenary for three or four years as well. Nickname's Red-bellied Snake," the soldier said cockily, "I wonder if you've heard of me?"
"I've never paid attention to small fries," the simple answer came back, the smile now fully etched on his face.
Several people around the man in question gasped, then several others whistled. A few even called challenges.
"Alright, shut up!" Kurdak's voice bellowed again.
He drew Lava Blade and stabbed its sizzling tip into the ground in front of him.
"You think I'm just some bumpkin playing big with my rank? I earned this rank with my fists and my sword before I'd ever set foot in the military. You--" his eyes glossed them all, "are junk! Useless trash!" he shook his head at the brinking protests, "Don't bother with tough-speak. If you're not trash, why are you still just grunts? Why are you here today? Why aren't you in command of your own brigade?"
"I don't care who are what you were before you joined the military, so don't waste my time with nicknames. And what's this Red-bellied Snake? You sound like an earth worm! Real nicknames are the ones like Dark Requiem, Golden Eagle, Crimsonflame Fiend, or Galestorm Swordsaint. You just a commonplace soldier, don't go getting an ego your abilities can't back up."
"If we're trash, then what are you, Major?" Blackie asked.
He might have submitted, for now, to the man, but that didn't mean he was happy being called trash.
"I'm the one that's going to turn you lot into something useful. I'm here to beat out all your rust and gunk so you can become steel. You'll listen to everything I say without complaint from today onwards. All I want to hear out of your sorry mouths is 'yes, sir, right away, sir!'."
"Where did your lordship come from? Do you really expect us to listen to an old man who can do nothing but flap his trap? Who made you boss?" A burly man asked, pushing his way to the front. It was midwinter, but the man was topless. He stretched, cracking his joints as he glared at Kurdak. "No one's going to listen to someone who's all talk and no bite. If you want us to listen, you'll have to bite, and bite damn hard and hope it more than tickles!"
"And how do you want me to 'bite'?"
"You'll fight me. If you can stay awake for ten minutes, I'll hold your shoes," the man barked.
"Hahahahahha!" laughter waved through the mass.
Kurdak didn't even raise an eyebrow. He took a few steps away from his sword and called the man closer.
"I'll do you one better. Anyone who can beat me can do whatever they want from now on."
Murmurs rose in the mass.
"Stop blabbering you idiots! I stepped out first, so I get to go first!" The burly man shouted and everyone immediately shut up.
He reached behind his back and unhitched a massive hammer, which he swung with surprising ease.
"I trust you're a man of your word, seeing as you were a mercenary for a while?"
"I would be even if I'd never been one," Kurdak nodded.
"Alright, pick up your sword and let's begin."
"No need. I'll beat sense into you with my fists."
"Alright, but then you can't haunt me when I beat you to death."
The man flashed a sinister smile and swung his hammer again.
"Holy crap! Ade is going for the kill for real!" Blackie started.
Even if Kurdak was quite harsh, he was still a superior officer. If Ade killed him here, the whole unit would be sent to the stocks. But Ade cried even before Blackie could open his mouth. Blackie paled even more when he saw the major not even flinch. He simply stood there like nothing was happening. Was he actually brain-dead all along?
The hammer struck home and Blackie's heart stopped.
It's over... I'd be lucky just to not be sent to the stocks… It'll take a miracle to keep me from going to prison for life…
Dust flew up, covering Ade and the definitely-by-now-puddle that once was Kurdak. It slowly fell back to earth or drifted away on the slightest of breezes, and both still stood.
Ade twisted his hammer, shock written on his face, but it didn't budge. Kurdak's hand clutched the striking end.
When Ade's gaze returned to his opponent's face, he saw only a contemptuous smile. He finally noticed that the man was ever-so-slightly larger than him, and his muscled looked like they were etched from stone. He could see them even through the old man's thick clothes.
"You've got the arrogance of a saint when you're just mid-order… It's really unsightly," Kurdak hissed.