With danger mounting, Kenneth and Thorn travel to Elesborough to recruit allies for their cause. A friendly place, Elesborough is the first city to have a talentless governor since the war ended, and for his part in this, Thorn is seen as a hero.
But all is not well in the talentless-governed town, even though they are able to recruit spies for a dangerous mission. Thorn and Kenneth are glad that inequality between mages and talentless is lessening in Elesborough, but the two groups still prefer to remain separate, threatening their dream of cooperation. And what’s worse, their enemy—the conspiracy of mages who seek to re-ignite the war and bring down the government—may have new targets—the Enforcers themselves.
In Thorn’s opinion, the council room in the Marman mansion was much less ornate than the one at the Victeni’s. The table was a simple long piece of furniture in a windowless room, much like the ones he’d find in the inventor’s college lecture halls. Thorn took in the sight, finally rested and able to think clearly after nearly three days of constant work. With a family like the Marmans, who prioritized business over entertaining guests, he supposed there was no reason to make the room in which they conducted business seem particularly inviting.
And it looked even less inviting as it began to fill with his fellow Enforcers, powerful mages taking seats in metal-forged chairs. But after their own information-gathering missions and questioning suspects and proven criminals over the past few days, this meeting was vital.
Abuses. Conspiracy. Treason. The charges swam through Thorn’s mind. Accusations to be brought against the Iris, the organization of talentless and mages whose goals they’d just now learned.
Their endgame wasn’t war, but a coup, a series of assassinations. And they needed to be stopped. Not only to protect mages, but also to protect the talentless who would undoubtedly be blamed for something they had almost no control over.
“Better after some sleep, eh?” Kievan said as he entered. His twin whispered something to him, and Kievan nodded as they took their seats.
Thorn jotted notes, his tight scrawl barely legible. Next to him, his lover Kenneth took a careful breath as the room filled with the familiar faces of his peers. They needed a plan—Thorn had one.
He just hoped they would listen to his ideas.
Kenneth stood when everyone was assembled—at least, everyone who’d been able to make the journey to the Marman mansion in the past few days. Not every Enforcer was present, but enough for Enforcer judgment. Kenneth swallowed hard, and Thorn sympathized. He wanted to make plans for the future, not waste time judging and punishing those they’d caught. Hopefully, Kenneth could steer the discussion in that direction.
“So,” Kenneth began. Ariel raised an eyebrow, as though she’d wanted to begin the meeting, but she didn’t protest, and Kenneth barreled on. “Thank you all for responding so quickly to my summons. It goes without saying why I need you here.”
“We caught Walnar,” Bernhart said. “Finally.”
“And uncovered the Iris’ true goals,” Ariel said. “Or, at the very least, a large portion of them.”
“That’s right,” Kenneth said. “Which makes it all the more important for us to continue our progress. They’re going to start a coup. They may already have begun. We need to figure out a way to stop them, or at the very least figure out when they’re going to put it into motion.”
Ariel looked between Kenneth and Thorn. “What do you suggest?”
There was the opening Thorn needed. It was time for him to explain his plan. He stood, fighting off the unease that always came over him when he faced a group of mages. He was more than just a talentless—he was an Enforcer.
And in this position, he was uniquely suited to help his people.
“Even after questioning, no one among those we caught can tell us the details of where the assassins have gone, or who their targets are,” Thorn said. “We can guess that whatever’s going to happen will happen in Arktaine, and will likely happen all at once, to keep confusion high and give the Iris a chance to take control.”
“We can’t be sure of that,” Kievan said. “Why kill everyone at once?”
“There’s good reason to think so,” Thorn shot back. “They’re going to blame talentless for the deaths, and the Iris will almost certainly pitch mass assassination as an act of war. Otherwise, as soon as one talentless kills a mage, security will be tightened, and it’s already tight in Arktaine, so you can only imagine what will happen. They’ll lose the advantage of surprise that using talentless gives them if they don’t act all at once.”
Kievan’s mouth turned down, but he nodded, and Thorn continued. “We need a way to find these talentless, and even more importantly, we need allies who won’t attract notice the way an Enforcer would. The true danger is that the Council and the Circle of Ten know Enforcers, and have very likely been alerted to us. But”—Thorn took a breath, even as he tried to find the right words— “they won’t have been alerted to talentless.”
Ariel blinked. “You’re proposing that we ally with talentless?”
Thorn tapped the table. “Doing so would give us extra information, and prevent—”
“What it would do would clue the Iris in on everything we’re doing,” someone said. Thorn didn’t know her name, but he was fairly certain she was Renna’s lifemate. “We can’t trust anyone, especially not talentless!”
Thorn ground his teeth, and next to him, Kenneth tensed. “We’ve already worked with talentless, including myself,” Thorn said. “Doing this will prevent what the Iris want—blaming the talentless for a rash of deaths that will put the Iris in power. You’re already falling prey to what they want you to believe if you want to blame all talentless for this. It’s mages who are the ones using us!” His voice echoed, and he realized he’d been shouting.
The room fell silent as his words died away. “This isn’t the only plan we can pursue,” Thorn said more quietly. “But I’m asking permission for Kenneth and me to seek out talentless allies we can station in Arktaine who can help us identify the talentless being used by the Iris. This will be a worthwhile way not only to prevent the coup, but to help those talentless being abused.”
The people at the table exchanged glances. The tension in the room was charged.