Gregorim noticed something had changed the moment they set foot in the barracks. Seida had tightened her grip on Tauren's shoulder as they came through the waypoint. He seemed dazed, as though his first jump had been a bit too much for him. He seemed even more pale, and his hands trembled a little bit. Something in her face seemed like she desperately wanted to hold him closer to comfort him but was using every last bit of self restraint to keep herself at a distance. Tauren took a few deep breaths, finally looking around with more clarity.
"Are you feeling well enough to walk?" She asked Tauren gently.
"I think so."
“Wait here.” Kao said. The five of them left the courtyard without another word, seeming very grim. Gregorim looked back at Seida, curious as to why it seemed as though they were in trouble. All she did was shrug at him, seeming worried as well. This only made Tauren lose even more color. Whatever his family had told him about the Order, it couldn’t have been good.
After what felt like hours, Gregorim heard a door open and a sudden rush of nervous whispers out in the courtyard. Seida tightened her grip on Tauren even more, a strange desperation in her eyes as she looked between Tauren and the gate leading to the courtyard. It looked to Gregorim as though she was reluctant to give him up. Why, though, he couldn't understand. She'd only met him just moments ago. And he’d tried to attack them with an axe.
The gates swung open, and the welcome party stopped in their tracks, silent. They all stared wide-eyed at Tauren, as though they couldn't believe their eyes. It was a while before one of the women spoke up. In the low light, he saw that it was the Overseer herself.
"Welcome back, Seida," The Overseer said. "May I have the pleasure of meeting the newest member of the Order?"
"Of course, Ma'am," Seida gently guided Tauren forward a few steps. The boy dragged his feet, seeming to sense that something was going to happen. Gregorim remembered the day he was brought to Ist'Heom well. The Scout who had rescued him had been so kind and gentle, just like Seida was being with Tauren now. He wondered now why she chose to retire in the first place. She seemed so suited for this. "This is Tauren. Tauren, this Overseer Maera."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Tauren." Maera scanned the three of them again, giving Gregorim a feeling that something wasn't quite right. She kept eyeing Tauren with a look of disbelief, as though she hadn't expected him to be there at all. "These ladies here are going to take you to get cleaned up and fed. I'm sure a warm bath and a hot meal sounds pretty good right now, yes?"
Tauren took a step back towards Seida, practically huddling under her arm. She was stone-faced now, clearly bracing herself to give him up. Her gentle hand on his shoulder was now an ironclad grip. Her expression only seemed to make him panic more. His eyes were wide, and his breathing started to quicken. Why he was suddenly so loathed to be separated from her also struck Gregorim as odd. A few moments ago, he hadn't really wanted anything to do with either of them. "Seida's coming with me, right?"
Maera's smile faltered. "No, she and I have some things to discuss. But you'll be able to see her once you've been taken care of and settled in."
"I'll only be a moment, Tauren. I'll see you again soon." Seida finally dropped her arm, letting the other women take him away. He resisted for a moment, looking desperately back at her before resigning himself to being whisked away, too weak to fight. Maera watched them go before turning around to look at Seida. Gregorim didn’t like the expression she wore.
"I received the Rendezvous Team’s report on Ordis, Seida. We have much to discuss." Maera's voice was stern and serious now. Seida hung her head and followed the Overseer out of the dispatch zone, Gregorim following close behind. To him, it definitely felt like they were suddenly in trouble now.
The whole walk back to the office, nobody spoke. Both Maera and Seida were dead silent. Once they stepped inside the office, Maera walked slowly to her chair, facing away from them. He knew the body language well: she was very angry.
"Please sit; We will be here for a while."
Seida took a seat. Gregorim did the same. This felt rather similar to a week ago, when he had sat in this very room and was told he was to be reassigned a fifth and final time before being transferred out of the Scouters. He crossed his arms, waiting for whatever punishment she would serve him next.
"Can you explain to me why the village of Ordis is now nothing more than a smouldering pile of muddy ash and rubble?" Maera broke the silence. Instead of furious, she sounded tired and defeated. She spun her chair around, hands folded in her lap. "Did he…?"
"No. That fire was not caused by Tauren, Ma'am. It was-"
"You know better than to lie to me about this, Seida. Your new apprentice is proof of what happens when young stormcallers slip through the cracks. They are dangerous through no fault of their own. He will not be punished if he did, but this is a very serious matter."
"It was a dragon, Maera. Not the boy. The poor thing just buried his own family! He has been through enough. The last thing he needs is to have people tell him the fire was his own doing."
"I have a hard time believing that one dragon could cause so much destruction. The fire spread for miles, Seida. Ordis is at the epicenter. When the king of Sericuze eventually finds out--and believe me, he will find out--, he will question us for answers. I need the truth. And all I have now is a scene that looks like someone started a massive fire and then put it out and started flooding half the damn plains of Sericuze with a torrential downpour! I thought that if anyone were to understand the rules about covering up accidents, it would be you, Seida.”
“I’m being honest with you, Ma’am. The fire was not his doing, but the rain was. I believe we were attacked by a Titan. When threatened by the fire, his magic reacted and doused the flames. He saved our lives.”
“A town of three hunded people is gone after reports of our agents being spotted in the mountains asking about said town have reached word to the capital already. The evidence is stacking against us, Seida. More specifically you. What happened in Ordis?”
"That is the truth! Seida and I had just set up camp not even five miles from the village when a massive dragon flew overhead and burned everything in its path. We were lucky to escape with our lives, Tauren included." Gregorim interjected before Seida could speak. Both women looked at him in surprise. "It's hard enough knowing your family is gone. Don't give him the added burden of it being his fault when it wasn't."
"Ma'am, I understand more than you think. I might be nothing more than a troublesome boy in your eyes, but you had the luxury of being born into the Order and safely trained right from the start. You've never hurt anyone you love without meaning to. Don't tell me what I wouldn't understand." Gregorim spat. Seida reached over and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. Instead of the stunned and outraged look that the Overseer wore, she was looking at him with a very weary but gentle smile.
"Why don't you wait outside for me? I won't be too much longer. Then we'll head home...