Zarubin led them to the main street. It was busier here, but still looked like a scene out of a medieval movie. Animals and carts and a well. A pair of children were sitting together on the steps of a house, laughing as they blew kisses at the passing townsfolk. No, not kisses. Little puffs of snow billowed off their palms and quickly dissolved in the warm air long before reaching the ground. Unfiltered magic on show in ways it simply couldn’t be in White Elm controlled territory, which was completely integrated with mortal lands. In moments like these, he could understand why Valero, and Avalon too for the same reason, would never entertain the notion of joining the White Elm nation in the modern world.
Not that plenty of wayward and gifted White Elm citizens hadn’t found ways around that, anyway. Despite mortal (albeit distant) neighbours, Renatus and his underworld associates had not troubled themselves to avoid magic in their childhood households. Emmanuelle had learned a stunning array of wards. Elijah had taught himself to teleport all over New Zealand as a boy before the White Elm had caught up with him and brought him on board.
“It could be weeks,” Zarubin continued, “or it could take a year. We have no way of knowing.”
“Trauma is complex,” Lady Miranda concurred. “It seems from what your doctor understands, Glen is suffering on multiple levels beyond the grief we initially presumed. There seems to be an injury at play here, though not one I’ve seen before.” She looked away, thoughtful, her brilliant brain flicking through its countless medical files of knowledge.
Jadon tried again to fall into step beside Zarubin.
“You said inside that Glen’s state is more regressed than you had expected. Did you mean to say this isn’t something you are accustomed to dealing with?”
“No one is accustomed to dealing with this,” Zarubin said peevishly, assuming an insinuation of incompetence. “Even your High Priestess does not have an answer.”
“I know, I know,” Jadon said hastily, clearly annoyed with himself for saying the wrong thing to an undecided ally. Worried about ruining everything. “I meant, this is what your people do. Telepathy. Is this response so unusual?”
Zarubin eyed him suspiciously before deciding to answer crisply.
“Typical telepathic bonds between powerful sorcerers working in such close conditions are not complicated by blood oath magic and invocation of Fate at your initiations. Five hundred years of White Elm power underpins Glen’s connection with Anouk. This could have been you, boy, given another few years.”
Gawain frowned, unsure what he was hearing but feeling the uneasy stirring of Fate at the edge of his awareness, a sign he’d come to trust throughout his life as an indication of very important information coming to light.
“Lev,” he said seriously, “what are you suggesting? That this wouldn’t have happened to Glen if he and Anouk weren’t White Elm? If they had been friends outside the council and not joined…”
“I am saying, old friend, that you have still one Telepath.” Zarubin gestured with a scarred hand at Jadon. “Valero cannot provide you with another at the risk of this fate. At this time, that is our answer to your latest proposition. Though,” he relented slightly, “the offering of Anouk’s place first to Valero was taken by some as a gracious move.” He paused, perhaps feeling he’d gone too far. Wouldn’t want to give the idea of friendliness, after all. “Others took it as a mockery or a threat, and so began discussing the release of the prisoners once again.”
“Of course they did. I am glad then that some understood our gracious motives. Our friend Anouk did not devote a decade of her life to see our alliance break down, nor, I am sure, did she die for this.”
“I am inclined to agree,” Zarubin admitted. “But whether her death had to happen remains in question, and something we will continue to investigate with Avalon; what has happened to Glen has further complicated matters.” He squinted thoughtfully at Jadon as they reached the city gates. “You have no other Telepaths currently bound by your council’s magic?”
“No. I guess I’m it. Why?”
“Only that I would not know how to reverse such a melding once it started.”
Lady Miranda made an appointment with the city keeper to return in a few days to check in on Glen, and it was received without question or challenge – Glen now functioning as the oil between the misfit wheels of the White Elm and Valero in the way Anouk once did – but Lord Gawain had begun to feel uneasy. The persistent niggle of Fate at the edge of his awareness had faded, leaving only a deeply unsettled feeling in his stomach.
No, the council had no other Telepaths, but it did have a scrier whose gifts with telepathy were uncharted. And he was bound to an apprentice in a mental embrace as close as Glen and Anouk’s. Lord Gawain thought of his friend in the izba, stained fingers working paint and charcoal into the walls like a madman. Was this Renatus’s future if Aristea was ripped suddenly from him? He had always known, try as he might not to know, that both great and terrible things awaited the young Dark Keeper he loved like family. He thought now of reckless behaviours manifesting in a previously cautious girl, and of cautious, protective behaviours appearing in Renatus. Was this Fate’s warning?
He departed the ancient city into the barren flatlands around it, as he stepped from the shadows cast by the city walls and passed through the tingly energy field that cloaked the whole thing, rendering Valero invisible to the eye. He looked back, always impressed by the feat of magic, reflecting ironically that it was the Valero-White Elm Agreement that had built it. But his mind was troubled, cycling on that same question.
Fate was suspiciously quiet.