Half-a-dozen recruits, fresh off the bus, stood at attention. They were lined up for their first inspection in the center of the recently repopulated boom-town. Before them stood two gray cloaked figures: one a gnarled, hunched-over old man with sun-weathered brown skin with a long beard, and the other a tall bespectacled white woman, her blond hair held tightly in a bun on the top of her head. Silent looks passed between the recruits as they waited for the Wardens to do or say something.
Like the crop of recruits that had come before them though, these slacked-jaw initiates didn’t realize that these were not the Warden they were waiting for. Emerging from the building that once housed the local sheriff, another gray cloaked figure approached, his cowboy boots kicking up a plum of dusty dirt. He was tall, also white, with a thick brown beard. His eyes were hidden behind large aviator sunglasses and, as he moved between the other Wardens, he pitched up the straw hat sat atop his clean-shaven head.
Stroking a long scar that followed his jawbone on the right side of his face, the man said, “Alright newbies, listen up!”
“First, allow me to introduce myself. My good Christian name is Richard. my friends call me Rick. Mexican cartels call me El Pinche Gringo; elsewhere in Latin America they call ‘Juan Perez’, for lack of anything better. The Reds, I hear, have taken to calling me El Cuco – the Bogeyman. The ladies like to call me Papa Grande and around here I go by Warden Master-Instructor Drake.”
Warden-Master Instructor Drake paced in front of them, “When another instructor, Warden, or myself is speaking to you, I expect to hear lots of sirs or ma’am’s coming out of your mouths when you address them back. Is that clear!?”
Half-a-dozen nervous voices rang out, “Yes sir,” with varying degrees of conviction.
Drake stopped, standing dead center in front of the recruits, the other Wardens at his back, “Welcome to Camp Kaboom. Please excuse the mess as we’re still under construction.”
“You are all here to become Warden’s, and in order to do that you need to learn how to fight. By the time you leave here, I expect that if I threw you into a room with a pack of vamps with nothing but a broomstick, you’ll walk away from some dead vamps with not even a splinter for your trouble! The training will be hard, it will be fast and it will be unrelenting. It has to be. We are at war.”
The Master-Instructor began to slowly pace by them again, lingering on each recruit for a moment as he continued, “Some of you have seen that war firsthand. You’ve lost family and loved ones. You’ve seen the Reds pluck children from their mother’s arms and drink ‘em dry in front of them. Some of you are here because you’re crazy and want to serve. That’s my kind of crazy.”
“Others are here because one day, you woke up and found you’d burnt your house down or that, suddenly, you could hurl that bullyboy ten feet away with just a thought. For you this is about survival. In a way, it’s about that for all of us: you, me, and the billions that sleep well at night because we keep the monsters at bay.”
“Whatever your reasons for being here let me tell you that while every single one of you has the makings of a fine wizard, not all of you will leave here donning the grey cloak. Even with the current state of things, the Wardens cannot allow just any Dick and Jane into our ranks: evocation is a fine and tricky business – you could end up blowing yourselves or, worse, others up if you’re not up to snuff. More than that, this job is hard and it is bloody; beyond application of theory we have to know that when each of you are faced with things you couldn’t even imagine in your worst nightmares you won’t crack, won’t hesitate.
Drake stopped pace, hands on his hips as he gazed up into the sky before he turned his eyes to them, “Believe me boys and girls when I say that by the time you leave here we will have found out what each and every one of you is made of. Understood!?”
The sound of another half-dozen “Yes sir’s,” rang out through the old boom-town, meeker than the last.
“Good,” Drake turned, walking behind the other two Wardens.
“Before we get on with the rest of the tour and get each of you situated in your bunks, let me quickly introduce you to my fellow instructors. They will be assisting me in shaping you slabs of formless metaphysical potential into combat-ready Wardens.”
The Warden-Master Instructor clasped a hand on the shoulders of the other Wardens, “Blondie here is Warden-Instructor Quinn – watch out for her, she’s one of the quiet ones – and will be handling your non-magical martial skills: weapons, close-quarters combat, and other useful things that will save your life. This ancient bearded specimen of wizardry is Warden-Instructor Figueroa: you should all be thankful that he decided to join us so late in life or else you’d be taking your thaumaturgy lessons from me! He’ll also assist you in crafting your first foci.”
“Now that introductions are out of the way – let’s get started.”