I walked through a castle of black stone, brooding storm-clouds gathering overhead, a hint of rain in the air. I bent the world around me, and the stones beneath my feet became dusty and pale, the black castle transforming piece by piece into an ancient abandoned city.
Behind me I felt Ji-yeong’s steps falter. “Keep up,” I told her.
“What’s going on?” Ji-yeong sounded disorientated. “I can’t feel . . .”
“Just stay close.”
The wall ahead reshaped itself into an old wooden door. I reached out and turned the handle; daylight rushed in. I stepped through, making sure to hold the door open until Ji-yeong had followed me before letting it swing shut.
We’d come out into a small park in London. Birds sang in the trees, the sun shone down from above, and the breeze blew with the first hints of autumn. Everything was normal and sane again.
Ji-yeong looked back but the door was gone. “What was that?”
“Else— wait. Elsewhere? That Elsewhere?”
“I thought that was just a story?”
“It’s that too. I wouldn’t recommend visiting on your own.” I reached out through the dreamstone, searching for a familiar set of thoughts. “I have to make some calls.”
Ji-yeong stayed quiet and I turned away, walking absently across the grass as I reached out to find the mind I was searching for. There’s a moment of vertigo when I make contact with the dreamstone, like stepping over a gap that’s a foot wide and a thousand miles deep. Luna.
Luna replied instantly. Emotion overlaid her words, worry and tension and determination. Did you find him?
Her, yes. Him, no.
Frustration joined the other feelings. Where’s she hiding him?
I don’t know, but wherever it is, I don’t think he’ll be staying. Anne wasn’t alone: she had two mages fighting on her side. Caldera and Barrayar.
Safe bet. That’s two out of four. Vari’s probably going to be number three. I think next time we run into him, he’ll be on her side.
Luna was silent. It’s time for the meeting, I told her.
I want to come.
Once this is over, I want you to have a life to go back to, I said. And as far as that goes, walking in by my side is going to leave a terrible impression. I promise I’m not going to shut you out of this, but right now this is a negotiation and there’s nothing you can do to help.
The silence lasted longer this time. Fine, Luna said at last.
I’ve got to go. Call you later?
I broke the connection. Luna wasn’t taking this well. I couldn’t really blame her, but right now I couldn’t spare the time to watch her. I hoped she wouldn’t do anything stupid.
I took out a communicator focus and channelled a thread of magic through it. “Hello,” I said. “Testing.”
A voice sounded from the focus instantly. “Verus? Where are you?”
“Getting ready to gate.”
Talisid’s voice was sharp. “You’re thirty-five minutes late.”
“I think once you hear what I’ve got to tell you, you’ll appreciate why.”
“That remains to be seen. Hurry up, please.”
“On my way.”
Talisid is a political operative high up in the Council, and we’ve had a long relationship. Mostly it’s been good, recently it’s been bad, and a couple of days ago it hit rock bottom when he led a group into a deep shadow realm in an attempt to kill me. I felt as though our relations should improve from here on out, given that there really wasn’t any way they could possibly get worse.
I cut off the focus and slid it into my pocket as I walked back to Ji-yeong. “We’ve got a meeting.”
“A meeting with who?”
“The Senior Council. Or two or three of them, anyway.”
I just looked at her.
Ji-yeong stopped smiling. “You’re serious?”
I fished out a new gate stone. It looked like a pebble of smooth glass carved with an insignia. “But the Senior Council doesn’t meet with outsiders,” Ji-yeong said. “Especially Dark mages.”
“They’ve been pushed a little out of their comfort zone lately,” I said. “Once we’re inside, just follow my lead. I’ll let you know what to do.”
Ji-yeong and I stepped through into the bubble realm of Concordia. The gate closed behind us and there was silence.
Concordia is one of the oldest of all created worlds, and it’s been used by the Councils of the various magical nations for over a thousand years. The Concord was negotiated here, and it wasn’t the first major treaty to take this place’s name. Among mages, the name ‘Concordia’ carries the sound of power and history and decisions that shape the world. I’d never expected to see it in person.
We’d arrived in a circular antechamber. Huge slate-grey columns rose to a ceiling ringed with small windows that glowed with orange-yellow light. The floor was decorated with circular mosaics. Everything was absolutely silent. The air smelled sterile and clean.
A slender construct, mechanical-looking and copper-coloured, inclined its head toward us. Its face was a blank, curved plate with a cross-shaped glow of yellow light. “Welcome,” it said in a melodious voice. “May I please have your names?”
“Alex Verus,” I told it.
The construct didn’t answer, but its head tilted towards Ji-yeong.
“And guest,” I added.
The construct bowed again. “Please follow me.”
The construct led us into a hallway, huge and spacious, light filtering down from windows far above. Arches to our left and right gave views onto a vast pillared hall, but everything was deserted. Ji-yeong and I followed the construct at a distance, the sounds of our footsteps echoing in the emptiness.
“What are we doing here?” Ji-yeong said. Her voice was barely above a whisper: something about this place made you want to keep quiet.
“Richard Drakh told me yesterday that Anne Walker and that jinn were about to cause a national disaster,” I said quietly. “He took it to the Council proposing a truce.”
“Drakh’s meeting with the Council?”
“As of yesterday, I’ve got a seat at the table. You’re here to give evidence as to what just happened in Sagash’s shadow realm. Just tell the truth and keep to the point. I’ll handle the rest.”
Ji-yeong muttered something under her breath. “I woke up this morning thinking it was going to be a boring day.”
The hallway ended in a set of double doors. The construct stopped and gestured forward with a bow. I pushed the doors open and walked through.
Beyond was Concordia’s main audience chamber. The room was huge and circular, divided into five equal-sized segments like a pie chart. The borders of the segments were marked by low walls, silver-grey and twelve inches high, and the tops of each wall glowed yellow, projecting an invisible vertical barrier. Those barriers protected against magical and physical attack, and were supposed to be completely impenetrable. The effect was to divide the room into five sections; people in different sections could talk to each other but were completely unable to harm them. The fact that this is their premier negotiation site probably says something about how mages tend to get on with one another.
At the narrow wedge of each segment were chairs and a low table, arranged in an arc so that the chairs of all five segments formed a ring. Four out of the five segments, including ours, were empty. The fifth was not.
The segment across and to our right was filled with people. Standing on the flanks, and guarding the doors at the back, were a dozen armed men. They were more heavily armed than normal Council security: their body armour was magically enhanced, and the assault rifles slung across their chests looked to have been upgraded. Half of them tracked us as we crossed the floor; the others were watching the exits. Looming over the men were four mantis golems, bulky silver-and-gold constructs that watched us from faceted eyes.
The golems and the security men were dangerous enough; four mantis golems and a dozen elite security were more combat power than most mages would ever see in one place in their whole lives. But compared to the six men and one woman around the chairs, they weren’t important at all.
There were three people standing, and four sitting. The ones standing were a square-faced mage in his fifties giving me a distasteful look, a long-faced, mournful-looking man with straw-coloured hair, and a much smaller and younger man who was avoiding my gaze completely. They were Nimbus, the Director of Operations of the Order of the Star; Maradok, Secretary to the Council from Council Intelligence; and Sonder, a Keeper auxiliary and time mage.
Sitting in the first and fourth chairs at the table were Talisid and Lyle. Both were mages I’d known for a long time; both had been my friends once, and both were my enemies now. Talisid gave me a glance before shifting his eyes to Ji-yeong; Lyle looked nervously away.
But it was the two people seated at the middle who really mattered. One was a man, bearded and barrel-chested and running to fat, the other a woman with a lined face and very straight grey-brown hair. Their bodies were opposites, but their eyes were the same, watchful and sharp. Their names were Druss and Alma, and together, they formed forty per cent of what was left of the Light Council, the governing body of the most powerful magical organisation in Britain. I kept walking until I reached the chairs twenty feet away from them, then I stopped. Ji-yeong shadowed me, staying a pace behind. I looked down across the forcefields at Druss and Alma. The last echoes of our footsteps faded into silence.
Alma spoke. “You’re late.”
I didn’t answer.
“Do you have a reason?” Alma asked.
Alma raised her eyebrows as if waiting for an explanation. I looked back at her calmly. The silence stretched out.
Druss broke it, rapping his thick fingers sharply on the table. “Well,” he said, “since you’ve finally shown up, maybe you can tell us when Drakh’s going to grace us with his presence.”
I pulled out one of the chairs. It slid smoothly on the polished floor, and I sank into the soft leather. To my right, Ji-yeong followed my lead. “Oh, he’s here already,” I said. “He’s just deciding when to make his entrance.”
“Then,” Alma said sharply, “perhaps you should tell your master to make it.”
“He hasn’t been my master for a very long time,” I told Alma, “and he’s not my master now. If you want to pass him a message, I’m sure you can find a way.”
No one else on the Council side seemed inclined to speak. Lyle, Talisid, Nimbus and Maradok are all important in their own ways, but Druss and Alma are in a totally different league. Ji-yeong was also staying quiet. Dark mages pretend sometimes that they’re above the Council, but any of the mages sitting opposite us could crush Ji-yeong with a word, and she clearly knew it.
Alma made a disgusted noise. “This is a waste of time.” She glanced at Druss. “We should leave.”
“You aren’t going to leave,” I told her.
“You’re giving us orders now, Verus?”
“You came out here with two Senior Council, five other mages of varying seniority, four mantis golems, and a bunch of security,” I said. “You wouldn’t have done that if you were planning to walk out.”
“That what you think?” Druss said.
“What I think,” I said, “is that as soon as Drakh got in touch with you last night, you called up Alaundo and Helikaon and every other diviner you keep on retainer. You told them to drop whatever they were doing and find out whether Drakh was telling the truth, right now. And after they got done being pissed off about being hauled out of bed, they did exactly that. Now, what they said when they got back to you, I don’t know, but just from the fact that you’re sitting here at this table, I can make a good guess.”
Druss and Alma looked at me. Their eyes gave away nothing, but the silence was an answer.
I leant back in the chair. “So why you two instead of Bahamus? With Sarque gone, I would have thought he was the obvious choice.”
“We aren’t here to make small talk,” Alma said.
“Because he doesn’t want to get close to you,” Druss said.
Alma shot a lightning-quick glare at Druss. “Oh, no one gives a shit, Alma,” Druss told her. The big mage stifled a yawn before looking back at me. “Bahamus was your ally. After what you did, he’s keeping his distance.”
“Apparently not that committed an ally.”
Druss shrugged. “You get caught breaking the law, that’s what happens. Who’s the girl?”
Alma’s eyes moved to Ji-yeong, her flash of temper already gone. The mages behind her followed her lead. I saw Sonder frowning slightly, as if trying to remember who she was. “This is Yun Ji-yeong,” I said. “Up until forty-five minutes ago, she was a senior apprentice under the Dark mage Sagash.”
“You want to know what happened forty-five minutes ago?”
“I don’t give a shit about some Dark apprentice,” Druss said. “What’s she doing here?”
“She’s here,” I said, “because Anne Walker just went into Sagash’s shadow realm with an army of jann and either killed or took control over every human being inside it.” I nodded at Ji-yeong. “Except for her. Given what Richard told you about Anne’s plans, I think you can see the relevance.”
“And why should we believe the word of a Dark mage?” Alma asked.
“Yun Ji-yeong has agreed to give evidence as to today’s events in exchange for safe conduct,” I said. I waited just long enough for Alma to open her mouth before going on. “She’s under my protection, so if you’d like to question her, I would request that you do so politely.”
Alma gave me a hard, flat look before switching her gaze to Ji-yeong. “Very well,” she said. “Apprentice Yun Ji-yeong. At your convenience, perhaps you could see fit to inform us as to Anne Walker’s activities.”
“I wasn’t aware that Anne Walker was targeting our shadow realm,” Ji-yeong said. Her voice was calm; she’d obviously taken the time to steady herself. “The first I knew of what was happening was when the perimeter alarms sounded. I travelled to the bridge and . . .”
Ji-yeong told the story simply and clearly. I sat quietly, studying the futures as Alma and Druss kept interrupting. They wanted to know tactical details: how many jann had Anne summoned, how many other mages had been supporting her, how much combat power she’d displayed. Ji-yeong answered honestly, but her answers didn’t seem to make them happy.
Once Ji-yeong began to repeat herself, Druss cut her off with a gesture. “All right,” he said. “Well, Verus, you’re the diviner, so here’s a question. What happens if we gate to that shadow realm and go after Walker right now?”
“That . . . would depend on a lot of things.”
“Are you one of those things?”
“What do you mean?”
“What Druss is asking,” Alma said, “is this. If we were to follow your old master’s plan and attack Anne Walker, whose side would you be on?”
I hesitated. Suddenly I was very aware that everyone in the room was watching me. “Anne is in the process of being possessed by the marid jinn from Suleiman’s ring,” I said carefully. “I consider that jinn to be an enemy.”
“You do understand what ‘possession’ means, right?” Druss said. “If the jinn’s an enemy, so’s she.”
“I would prefer to find some way to separate them.”
“And what if you do not find one?” Alma said. She clasped her hands in front of her, leaning toward me. “What if there is no way to separate them? What if the choice is between eliminating Anne Walker, and allowing the jinn to achieve its goals?”
I met Alma’s gaze. There was a clear path behind me, yet suddenly I felt trapped. Seconds ticked by.
Then the boom of an opening door echoed through the chamber. Richard had arrived.
Most of the Council group turned towards the sound. The Council security adjusted their formation, shifting to face the new threat. I saw Nimbus take a battle stance, and Druss’s hand twitched as though he’d like to do the same.
Richard entered with two people flanking him. On his left was Vihaela, a tall, predatory woman with dark skin. Her gaze swept the room like a raptor scanning for prey, and she noted and dismissed me before focusing on the Council group. On Richard’s right was what looked like a swirling mass of grey-black darkness, vaguely humanoid with a faceless blur for a head. I knew that it was a man, even if it didn’t look like one: his name was Tenebrous, a radiation mage. He wore that shroud everywhere, and as far as I knew, no one on the Council had ever seen his face. He’d been one of Richard’s cabal for a while. Apparently with Rachel and Morden gone, he’d been raised to the inner circle.
But it was Richard who drew my attention. Shorter than both Vihaela and Tenebrous, he was (after Sonder) probably the least physically imposing person in the room. But it was he who’d summoned the Council, not the other way around. The Council forces outnumbered Richard’s group eight to one, but given a choice between the Council group and Richard’s three, I knew which I’d rather have as an enemy.
“Alma,” Richard said as he walked closer. His voice rang through the chamber, commanding as always. “Druss. And Verus.” He gave me a nod. “I’m glad you were able to make the journey.”
“And we’re glad you deigned to show up,” Alma said sharply. “I was starting to wonder if you were intending to win this war by waiting for us to die of old age.”
“I can’t imagine you dying of old age, Alma,” Richard said with a smile. He pulled out a chair and sat. Vihaela dropped into the chair at his side and put her feet up on the table. Tenebrous stayed upright, silent and brooding.
“Let me first say,” Richard began, “that I appreciate you all coming on such short notice.”
“Piss off,” said Druss.
Richard raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“We know what you are, Drakh,” Druss said. “We don’t like you, we don’t trust you, and you’re only here ’cause you want something. Get to the point.”
“I’m afraid I have to agree,” Alma said. “We have waited more than long enough.”
“I see,” Richard said. He turned to me. “Verus? Do you feel the same?”
I’d been watching the back and forth. “You know why I’m here,” I said simply.
“Yes,” Richard said, and turned back to the Council. “Well, then. I have brought you here today because we have a problem.”
“We have a lot of problems,” Druss said. “But I’m guessing you mean Anne Walker.”
“I am more interested,” Alma said, “in your use of the word ‘we’.”
“Because,” Alma said, “I would consider it more accurate to say that you have a problem. You arranged, at significant time and expense, to free that jinn from the Vault and to have it possess Anne Walker. You then proceeded to use it as a weapon until the jinn, quite predictably, broke free and attacked you instead. At which point you came to us. So no, Drakh. I don’t think we have a problem. I think that you are attempting to make your problem into our problem.”
“As I recall, Anne Walker killed one of your companions on the Senior Council just last month,” Richard said.
Druss’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “She killed Sarque during your attack!”
“And this month, she was involved in the death of a second Senior Councillor,” Richard said. He raised his eyebrows. “Two months, two empty seats. It seems to me that she’s become your problem already. Although on the positive side, if she keeps whittling down the Senior Council at her current rate, it might not be long before your and Alma’s votes are enough for a majority.”
Druss slammed his fist on the table with a bang. “You think this is funny?” He leant forward, glaring at Richard. “You started this, Drakh! You and your insane war!”
“Who was it who had Anne captured and tortured, Druss?” Richard asked calmly. “Who sentenced her to death and attempted to have her assassinated? Not me. If you believe she has any reason to think kindly of the Council, I assure you, you are very much mistaken.”
“Why don’t we let them handle it?” Vihaela said lazily. “They’ll figure it out soon enough.”
Alma spoke over her, her voice rising. “You have the nerve to come here and attempt to lay this at our feet—”
“Enough!” I shouted.
I hadn’t really expected it to work. But for some reason, Richard, Vihaela, Alma and Druss all stopped and looked at me. It caught me off guard but I plunged forward. “Everyone here shares some blame for this,” I said, my voice hard. “In fact, by my count, the only ones in this room who haven’t contributed one way or another to Anne’s current situation are Tenebrous and those four mantis golems.”
“I didn’t—” Sonder began.
“You provided the evidence that got her arrested. Now, we can sit around this table arguing over whose fault this is, or we can decide what to do.”
There was a moment of silence. I forced myself to stay still. “All right, Verus,” Druss said. He leant back in his chair. “What’s your call?”
All of a sudden everyone was looking at me. Why are they acting like I’m in charge? “We are here because of Mage Drakh,” I said. “He has claimed that the marid, acting through Anne, is in the process of taking actions that will have catastrophic consequences. He has also claimed that a truce between him and the Council is the best way to prevent those consequences.” I looked at Richard. “I would like to hear him justify these claims.”
First Druss, then Alma turned with me to look at Richard. One by one, the rest of the Council group followed their lead. Vihaela just looked bored.
“A reasonable request,” Richard said. He raised his eyebrows toward Alma and Druss. “If you have no further objection?”
Druss snorted but didn’t reply. “Then let us hear it,” Alma said.
“The jinn possessing Anne Walker is the marid sultan from the Jinn Wars,” Richard said. “Now that it has been freed, it intends to continue that war. To fight a war, it needs an army. It intends to acquire one.”
“How?” Druss asked.
“I assume you are familiar with the consequences of Suleiman’s binding ritual?”
Alma gave a curt nod. “Which consequences?” I said.
“The ritual bound a jinn to an item, and in doing so permanently destroyed its ability to manifest,” Richard said. “If the item was subsequently destroyed, the jinn was banished. A banished jinn could be resummoned by a free jinn of higher rank, and as such the mages binding jinn were careful to safeguard the items. But that was close to a thousand years ago, and while the binding items are resilient, they are not invulnerable. Enough have been destroyed that, by now, banished jinn greatly outnumber bound ones.”
“So a banished jinn can be resummoned by another of higher rank?” I asked. “Isn’t the one possessing Anne the highest-ranked?”
“The resummoning process is slow and is subject to limitations,” Richard said. “At present, the marid sultan has only been able to resummon a small number of ifrit. If left to its own devices, this will shortly change.”
“Get to the point, Drakh,” Alma said.
“The point,” Richard said, “is that the marid intends to use its new base in Sagash’s shadow realm to conduct a ritual. This ritual will grant the marid’s host – that is to say, Anne Walker – the ability to summon greater jinn quickly and efficiently. This process requires only another human, and a banished jinn of lesser rank than the sultan. And, as Verus has noted, that is a great many jinn.”
“How many?” I asked.
“At the very minimum, more than all Light and Dark mages in Britain put together.”
There was silence.
“Oh,” Richard added. “And as I understand, the marid has already demonstrated an ability to use this summoning ability upon hostile mages. It seems unlikely that any of you would be more successful at resisting the possession than Mages Caldera and Barrayar.”
The reason that Anne – that the marid – had been able to do that to Caldera was because of me. I pushed that thought aside. “How fast can it summon a jinn to possess a target?”
“At the moment? Hours or days. If it completes its ritual? Minutes or seconds.”
More silence. In the quiet, an image played in my mind of Anne’s group of jinn-possessed humans spreading like a virus, their numbers increasing with each mage they defeated. Sagash’s shadow realm had been heavily fortified and defended, and Anne had conquered it in a matter of hours. That had been with three jinn. What could she do with a hundred?
Alma spoke up. “A pretty story, Drakh. But why should we believe it?”
Richard sighed. “Alma, please stop wasting time. You and Druss have already contacted your diviners to ask that exact question. If they had not confirmed what I just told you, you would not be here.”
I looked at Alma and Druss. “Is it true?”
“We have . . .” Alma said, choosing her words carefully, “not received any information that directly contradicts Drakh’s story.”
“Ugh,” Vihaela said loudly, and thumped her head back against the cushions of the chair. “I told you this was a waste of time.”
I ignored her. “I didn’t ask if you could disprove it,” I said to Alma. “I asked if it were true.”
Druss gave Alma a look.
“Medium-term divinations . . .” Alma said reluctantly, “have produced . . . irregularities. Within a certain time band, a majority of projected futures contain widespread attacks on magic-using power centres across the country. These attacks ramp up in a manner which is consistent with, though not proof of, an escalating threat.”
“How large a majority?”
“In the absence of intervention, greater than ninety per cent.”
“And this time band would be . . . ?”
Druss answered. “Seventy-two to ninety-six hours from this morning.”
I sat back in my chair.
There was a long silence.
“Well,” I said at last. “It sounds as though we do have a problem.”
“A problem, yes,” Alma said. “The cause of that problem is another question.”
Richard raised his eyebrows at her.
“We did our homework, Drakh,” Druss said. “Swarm of greater jinn. You’re telling the truth about that part.”
“And what part do you have doubts about?”
“How it happens,” Alma said. “We have not sat idle during this war, Drakh. We know precisely what kind of man you are. And summoning a vast number of greater jinn to possess your enemies is exactly in line with your methods.”
“If that is the case,” Richard said calmly, “why would I be approaching you now?”
“You fucked up?” Druss said.
“To lure us into a trap?” Alma said.
“Bit of both?” Druss said. “Point is, we don’t trust you.”
“Your level of trust in me is interesting but irrelevant,” Richard said. “Your current enemy is the jinn.”
“And how do we know you’re not controlling the jinn?” Alma said. “Or working together with the Walker girl? As Druss says, we simply cannot trust you.”
“Then it seems we are at an impasse,” Richard said. He looked at me.
He wants me to step in. I kept my mouth shut.
“Verus?” Richard said.
Damn it. “All right,” I said with a grimace. “Alma, Druss: if you’re asking why you should trust Drakh – you shouldn’t. But as to his relationship with Anne and the jinn . . . he is not controlling her, and he is not working with her.”
“And you know this because . . . ?”
“Because up until four weeks ago, he was controlling both her and the jinn. Via a dreamstone that he got from a deep shadow realm.” I glanced at Talisid. “The same one I trapped you in, if you’re interested. During the battle in Sal Sarque’s fortress, I destroyed that dreamstone. That freed Anne, and she and that jinn have been Drakh’s enemies ever since.”
Talisid did not look amused. “And how do we know that you aren’t working with Drakh?” Alma said.
“Alma, I’m going to be frank,” I said. “I don’t like you. You supported Levistus while he was alive, and you voted to sentence me to death, not once but over and over again. If you were to drop dead of a heart attack, I wouldn’t lose a moment’s sleep. But Richard is a far worse enemy to me than you will ever be. If I were in a room with you, Richard and a gun with two bullets, I’d shoot Richard twice. Does that answer your question?”
Alma looked back at me, stone-faced. Richard had been watching our exchange with an expression of mild interest. Druss looked amused. Vihaela just seemed to be enjoying the show.
“We will pause this meeting to confer,” Alma said, her voice flat. “We will resume in twenty minutes.”
“We will be waiting,” Richard said.
The Council delegation had withdrawn into the anteroom from which they’d entered. Four Council security had been left in the hall; they stood with weapons ready, watching us closely.
Ji-yeong and I stood near the middle of our section, alone in the giant empty space. “You did well back there,” I told her.
“Why did you introduce me as an apprentice?” Ji-yeong asked.
“Because if I hadn’t, they’ve have treated you as an adult mage.”
I spoke over her. “An adult mage is a legitimate target. An apprentice is not. I told you I’d keep you safe, and this is the simplest and most effective way to do it.”
Ji-yeong made a face and looked away. “I thought I was done with this,” she said after a moment.
“Needing protection?” I said. “Sagash was a big fish in a small pond. You’re going to have to get used to bigger ponds.”
Over Ji-yeong’s shoulder, some distance away, I saw Richard rise from his chair and walk towards us. “Stay here,” I told Ji-yeong, and moved to intercept him.
Our paths met on opposite sides of the barrier, close to the wall. “Richard,” I said.
“Alex,” Richard said. He glanced toward Ji-yeong. “A new protégé?”
“She’s temporary,” I said. “So are the Council going to say yes?”
“Isn’t that a question you should be asking them?”
“I don’t think you’d be going to all this trouble if you didn’t already know their answer.”
Richard smiled slightly. There was a pause.
“What’s your angle?” I asked.
“What do you want?”
“If you’re asking why I’ve approached the Council . . .” Richard made a small open-handed gesture. “I would have thought you of all people would be very familiar with the realities of a common enemy.”
Off to one side, I could see Vihaela talking with Tenebrous. The Dark life mage was leaning back on her chair with her feet up, while Tenebrous stood stone-still. “A common enemy, yes,” I said. I tilted my head at him. “A common goal? Not so much. If that jinn really is about to cause this much devastation, why not just leave the Council to deal with it? Hole up for a while, let your two enemies fight.”
“Leaving two enemies to fight,” Richard said, “is only of benefit if both have a chance of victory.”
I looked at Richard. “You don’t think the Council can win.”
“Without my assistance? No chance at all.”
“You haven’t answered my question,” I said. “Why do you care?”
“Alex, I’m not some sort of genocidal maniac,” Richard said. “Winning this war will bring me no benefit if there isn’t a country left at the end of it. And I assure you, if Anne’s jinn succeeds, there will be very little left.”
I tapped my elbow but didn’t reply.
Richard sighed. “Come on, Alex. No one in this room wants to see the Jinn Wars come again. Is it really so hard to believe that our interests might align? You were happy enough to work with me once. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to do so again.”
I stared Richard closely. His face was relaxed and calm. Neither his expression nor the futures gave anything away.
A creak and a boom sounded from the far end of the room. Turning, I saw the Light delegation crossing the floor, heading back toward their tables. The Council had made its decision.