Kenneth and Thorn have put a stop to Alder’s cruel experiments on Talentless, but their work as Enforcers is far from over. In the heart of the magi capital, they find out that Alder is part of a larger organization—and Alder has allies that are quite upset with Enforcers who think they can put a stop to their plans.
Kenneth assumes Thorn, a talentless, is the one who is most vulnerable—but when Kenneth is the one put in danger, Thorn will have to find a way to save his lover.
The wooden wall scraped against Thorn’s back as he leaned against it, and he shifted his weight. For the past two hours, the voices of the council members had wafted through the tightly closed door, the words unintelligible. He took a step forward, straining to hear Kenneth’s voice, but he couldn’t make it out. Voices from inside the other room burbled over the sound of the grandfather clock next to him.
“Don’t bother,” Liliana said. Thorn met her eyes. “What you’re hearing is magic. Subterfuge. It is impossible to eavesdrop on the council. Even if you had control of the aether, all you would hear would be nonsense.”
Thorn sighed and resumed his leaning position against the wall. His heart pounded in his chest. He told himself Kenneth would do great.
Well, of course Kenneth would be fine. It was his own testimony he was worried about. That, and having to inform some of the most powerful magi in the world that he had put a talentless in charge of a town.
The voices rose and fell like the burbling of water in a pot, and they drove Thorn to pace, his earring swinging against the side of his head. His boots scuffed against the plush carpet.
The journey here had been uneventful, save for the knowledge that they were transporting a prisoner in the carriage behind them. At least Marle had cooperated, if you could call saying nothing cooperating. They had arrived here just this morning.
But here…being here made Thorn’s skin crawl. He had thought they would turn Marle over at the nearest magi city. But with all that had happened, they were here. Here, the city of Arktaine, the capital city of the magi and seat of all governing power. Outside the walls, a city he had heard of only in curses and threats stretched for miles, with houses constructed of things like trees or water or whatever other random material a mage could think of.
He moved to the window, looking out over the city. In the small town where he had grown up, nighttime meant the lighting of the gas lamps and the odd house here and there that had electricity sending dull yellow light into the night, framed in square windows.
Here, glowing orbs of light lit every street, casting the walkways in the light of day. Glowing vines were illuminated, and they climbed up stone houses or circled enormous expanses of grass. The city glowed, as though it were bedecked with pearls. It made Thorn’s skin crawl.
Below the window, a man in a tattered coat carried a broken fan in his arms, a woman in a voluminous dress walking ahead of him. Thorn wondered why she even needed the fan. The hearth in the room he stood in was cold, and the air was chilled.
He sighed, turning away. He was probably the only talentless in a score of miles who wasn’t a servant. And he was going to speak to the council.
He checked his appearance in a full-length mirror as he passed by. At least he didn’t look like one. In preparation for the trial, he and Kenneth had made a whirlwind stop at a store down the street. He was dressed in the finest waistcoat he could find, made of silk with a silk dress shirt underneath. A dark jacket covered the ensemble, and Kenneth had given him a silver broach in place of where a wealthy talentless would usually wear a necktie. It was the richest clothing he had ever worn, topped with a silk top hat. He had even polished his artificial hand to a sheen. He didn’t wear his pistol at his hip, though. Apparently wearing talentless weapons was banned in Arktaine.
But no matter how he looked, it wouldn’t be enough.
He sighed, forcing himself to stop his pacing. He was getting worried over nothing. He already knew how it would go. He had seen it before, at the Victeni Mansion.
They just wouldn’t listen. This was a waste of his time. His metal hand tightened, and he forced it to relax. He should be out chasing down Alder, not stuck in this room preparing to talk to magi who would ignore him.
“Thorn, calm down. Just tell them what you told me.” Liliana spoke from her place in a rich chair, braided tassels hanging from the chair’s back and an equally fancy chair next to it. She was impossibly perceptive, probably due to her Enforcer training, but Thorn had a feeling she didn’t need that perception to tell he was nervous.
“I intend to,” he said, facing the woman. In a way, he considered her his mentor, though he wasn’t sure how she would react to that. “But…” he swallowed his pride. “How do I make them listen to me? They know what I am.”
Liliana frowned. “Not everyone on the council is so opposed to talentless. Not all magi are like Marle.”
Thorn stifled a snort. “Magi don’t have to be like Marle to ignore a talentless when he speaks.” He had seen it often enough.
“Don’t make assumptions before you try,” Liliana said. “If you go in there with the mentality that no one will listen to you and you present yourself as unimportant, why would they think you are worth listening to?”
Thorn sighed. She should be right. But in his experience, that wasn’t how things worked.
“I just wish I had more time,” he said. “We haven’t even been here for a day.”