Dr. Stan and Sally arrive late, as usual, he with his shirt only half tucked into his slacks and she with her blonde hair in a state of mild disarray. Dr. Stan takes his spot near the head of the table with the rest of the Founding Five, and Sally sheepishly sits in the chair next to him.
In my chair.
Though I have more seniority than the other so-called Voting Members of the Aardvark Guild, Sally sits closest to the Founding Five by virtue of her extracurricular contributions.
I bite my tongue. Cretins though they are, I need this job... for now.
"What've we got?" asks Doc nonchalantly, grabbing a stack of applications from the hands of our fearless and brainless leader Nicolai. Today will be the sixth day in a row we will be discussing possible new recruits. It will also be the sixth day in a row the Founding Five and their hapless sycophants will shuffle their feet considerably without actually making any decisions.
As Doc looks over today's applicants our Dark Hunter Sanchez, a man who could not possibly be more flaming if he were dancing the Flamenco to a Troubador's Ifrit song, speaks up: "Well, I'd like to revisit the whole Gunner issue again. I've been watching them practice down in the yard and, oh my god you guys, they are totally amazing."
"Vetoed," chirps the monosyllabic Frieja from underneath the depths of her hat.
"But seriously, how come?" Sanchez protests. "We've got like six fabulous applicants here. I met one of them for mai tais last night, and I totally think we should sign him."
Sure, I say inwardly. You're hoping he's packing more than just heat. I bite my tongue.
"Oi!" shouts Oblivia, spewing half-chewed gobbets of turkey leg across the table, "Ol' Frieja 'ere can do wif tree arrows wot them fancypants Gunners ain't even do wif a whole keg of powdah, ain't that true, Frey?" She laughs nods in the Survivalist's direction.
"And arrows are cheaper," Nicolai says, exasperated. "Have you seen this month's expense sheets? We're going through Medica like crazy."
"Sally's still learning, but picking it up fast," replies Doc, giving his sleepy-eyed "assistant" a wink. She blushes and sinks down into her seat.
"Oh, it's not your guys' fault. It's no one's fault really..." That's our Nicolai, ever the peacekeeper, constantly backing down from confrontation. How such a doormat ever mustered the scrote to become a Protector I'll never know, but then, I've never cared to ask.
"We're spending a great deal more on chemicals and base metals than we used to," says Doc, casting an accusing glance at me. "A crate of Firebird plumes, Li-Mae? Is all this really necessary?"
"Only if you want me to keep doing my job," I mutter. I don't know how much we'd save by firing his precious porcelain doll, but I do know it's out of the question since it'd mean he'd have to get off his rear and actually enter the labyrinth himself for once.
"Celino doesn't spend nearly this much on spell components," Doc replies dismissively. He's forgetting the fact that Celino hasn't actually been enlisted in a labyrinth party for something like four months.
"Celino's spending will be justified the day you want your monsters to be a little sleepy or itchy, sir, but as long as I've been with Aardvark you've always wanted them incinerated. You tell me who is wasting the money."
"As expensive as alchemy may be / There's no need for such hostility!" sings Zoe, rattling her tambourine to some nonexistant beat. I bite my tongue. If I give them too big a piece of my mind, I'll have to listen to another of their "bad attitude" lectures.
"I'm sorry. I just don't see how a guild can complain about being short on money when they're actually considering wasting coin on one of those ridiculous War Magi." I've tried explaining it to them: it's simply not possible to learn the destructive arts if one insists on also focusing on combat or support skills. I'd go into it again, but "deaf ears" is the understatement of the century with this crowd.
"Many of the other guilds have used them to great effect," says Nicolai matter-of-factly. "We were wondering if you'd be interested in changing career paths to fill the niche. What do you think, Li-Mae?"
I'd love to tell him what I think, but instead I bite my tongue. I've been doing that a lot lately. "Not interested." I cast a sidewards glance to Lacey, my only guildmate who has a smidgen of damn sense. She doesn't want to hear this War Magus nonsense any more than I do; to pay for the new recruit the Founding Five have cut her training and sparring out of the budget. How they expect her to fight effectively without learning new stances is beyond me. She watches the discussion with a sad, defeated look in her eyes.
Sally writhes in her seat, then leans over to Doc and says something only he can hear. "Of course we will. We'll get that big brown one you said you liked," and then, acknowledging the rest of us, "Sally and I picked out a Beast. You're all going to love him, he's very sweet."
Zoe's eyes light up and she shakes her tambourine. "A Beast, gentle and kind / Comes to us as from above / Of playful spirit and loyal mind / To at last return our endless love!" I want to smack her.
Nicolai sighs. "Okay, I'll have to re-arrange a few things... throw out these Gunner apps for me, wouldja, Stan?" Sanchez lets out a mournful gasp as Doc crumples up the papers in front of him and throws them in his bag. "Great, let's break for dinner."
"Finally!" shouts Oblivia, wiping a faceful of grease on her shirt sleeve. "First round's on me, wot?"
I don't share my suspicions that the Beast they're about to take on is probably less of "playful spirit" and "loyal mind" as it is of "razor-sharp claws" and "endless hunger for human flesh."
Maybe I'll get lucky. If two of them get eaten, I can finally take my spot in the Five, and maybe take Aardvark in a winning direction instead of around in circles. I'd start by changing its name to something less embarrassing than "Aardvark."
But for now, I bite my tongue.