“Sir Ilbert. If I may have a word?”
Rowen froze at the familiar voice, a grimace visible on his face for a brief moment before he schooled it away behind a faintly surprised, courteous expression. After all of the talk floating around Fennmont, their group had decided it was best to explore the palace in search of Nachtigal–the most likely source of the divergence in this dimension. Ludger and the others posed as tourists exploring the public rooms of the palace during its quieter hours, while Rowen made use of his apparent authority in this dimension to search the more restricted floors.
Of course someone would call out and acknowledge him. He had been prepared for that.
He hadn’t been prepared for that someone to be Wingul, who for all intents and purposes should have been in Auj Oule.
Perhaps he was a negotiator? That aligned with Wingul’s responsibilities as he knew them, having absorbed several of them into his role as prime minister. He certainly wasn’t a hostage or normal visitor, accessing this wing of the palace with his nonplussed expression intact. Regardless, Rowen turned to face the younger man with a smile in place, nodding in greeting. “Good evening, Wingul. What may I do for you?”
Upon closer inspection, he could see that the younger man was carrying a number of books under one arm. Ah, of course—a prolific observer like Wingul would make use of his time in Orda Palace and seek out any books that were not available in Auj Oule.
“I wished to discuss some of your works with you while I had the opportunity.” Rowen smiled at Wingul’s level of formality, but somehow found the lack of hostility jarring. There was no reason to think it strange, considering they were in a fractured dimension and it had been a long time since he’d seen an antagonistic Wingul. Perhaps it had something to do with the niggling reminder at the back of his head that Nachtigal was alive somewhere in the structure.
“Most certainly. I would be happy to…” He trailed off as he belatedly recognized the book Wingul shifted to the top of his stack, his smile freezing in place and thoughts grinding to a halt. Fortunately, his sudden trepidation went unnoticed, and he fought to calm himself.
Until Wingul spoke. “I never would have imagined you to be such a visceral poet.”
* * *
“You ran away.”
Rowen had the decency to flush in embarrassment, hiding the majority of his grimace behind his teacup. “A strategic withdrawal. We had much more important matters to deal with, and far be it that I be the one holding us up.”
Wingul leveled an unimpressed look at his drinking companion, shaking his head as he averted his gaze back to the Spirius Corporation dossier in front of him. “Yet none of this will ever be on the public record.”
“Indeed. One would think it would benefit Spirius to be more open about basically saving the world.”
“Benefit? If Origin’s Trial and this wish business were public knowledge, there would be chaos in the streets. Or, even worse, everyone would be second-guessing every action they took out of fear of somehow creating a fractured dimension.” When Rowen raised a questioning brow, Wingul emphatically stabbed the papers in front of him with the back of his pen. “A strong enough departure from the choices of the prime dimension, wasn’t it? Imagine the fear bred out of the possibility. No one would want to end up in a fractured dimension.”
“My understanding is that the shift is unnoticeable and that those in the fractured dimension are not even aware of their state.” Rowen seemed to be in the middle of shifting opinions on his earlier remark. “I suppose the leadership of Spirius sees no reason to alert the public if there is nothing they can do about it.”
Wingul’s eyes narrowed as he followed the other tactician’s line of thinking. “If that is the case, how does someone become aware they aren’t of the prime dimension?”
“There is the issue of our two Millas, of course, but that could be refuted with the belief that each dimension prioritizes that world’s version of a person. I presume it has something to do with this Land of Canaan that Elle is searching for. Perhaps the Spirius Corporation of our world has found some trace of it to lead them to that belief.” While it certainly sounded plausible, Rowen couldn’t deny his own skepticism—or the dour look from across the table. “I will speak with Ludger, but it may very well be blind faith. Who would actively press forward believing their world is a fractured dimension?”
“A world determined or desperate enough to defy that possibility.” Wingul leaned back, dropping his pen on the tabletop along the way. “Fighting world destruction on multiple levels. How absurd.”
Rowen smiled wanly in response. “What is fighting for peace if not delaying world destruction?”
Wingul made the effort to pick up his pen to fling it in the older man’s direction, not at all surprised to see it caught with ease. “There’s already enough cynicism at this table without you dipping your toes in the water. You have yet to finish your story about the fractured dimension.”
“Ah, yes, I did, didn’t I?” His smile took on a faintly nostalgic tinge as he set the pen down. “Very well, I suppose I should tell you about our eventual meeting with Nachtigal…”