“Many of the reapers joining us have been in isolation for ages,” said Salazar. “They’ve never chosen a side, because they’ve never needed to. Most of them originally died long before it was common practice for governments to record any meaningful details about the lives that their citizens lived. And as floating, imaginary beings, it’s easy to live beneath everyone’s radar, so a lot of the time, the only thing we have to go on is word-of-mouth: what reapers tell us about each other. And that’s not much.”
‘It’s a simple matter for Abolish to sneak agents in as one of these “unknown” reapers,’ said Armengél.
“The Vanguard may be larger than ever, but it is definitely not stronger,” said Salazar. “It’s disorganized, and corruption has taken full advantage of that.”
Zeff’s gaze hardened. “Corruption? That is a bold accusation, General Salazar.”
“No, it isn’t,” Salazar said flatly. “The Vanguard has always had its share of eccentrics and troublemakers. I’m sure you’ve met plenty of them. They’re valuable assets, but they thrive in chaos. And they make it worse.”
Mariana found herself in agreement there, at least.
Armengél hovered behind his partner, nodding deeply. ‘Ideally, we would slow down the recruiting process in order to give ourselves time to adjust, but saying that now is like telling a dog to chew its food more.’
At the ensuing discomforted silence, Salazar’s expression lightened again. She grabbed a rice cake from the tray beside her and took a bite. “Have any of you heard of the Vahgrakaanas?” she asked.
The word was familiar, but Mariana couldn’t place it. She didn’t need to, though.
‘It’s a group of five rogue servants, all of moderate fame,’ said Shenado. ‘And the name. Vahgrakaanas. It means ‘vagrant lords’ in Old Mohssian.’
“That’s right,” said Salazar. “They’re still small and comparatively weak, but they’re capitalizing on the times and gathering clout right now. A lot of people suspect that they’re trying to become a fourth major player, equal to the Vanguard, Abolish, and Sai-hee.”
‘Five deserters, is what I’ve heard,’ said Axiolis. ‘From both the Vanguard and Abolish, supposedly. Not sure I believe that, though.’
“It’s true,” said Salazar. “But they won’t be five for much longer. Because I will be the sixth.”