"Chin up!" With a finger, Magus Keridwen Le Guevel teased her student's profile until she achieved the desired limberness. "My dear, you have an enviously inviting neck."
"That's not ominous at all." Gwen mindfully swallowed, tracing the wandering digit with her eyes. "There aren't any Vampires in Cambridge, are there? Square jaw, smoky eyes, sparkles in the sun?"
"One could hope," Le Guevel cooed. "England isn't the untamed Eastern Reaches. I wonder, though. You would make a wonderful diplomat, with such tempting veins, rich with the unclaimed blood of a virgin."
At the V-word, Gwen stumbled forward, her left foot tripping on her four-inch heels, the ball of her foot landing on her instructor's shoe.
"Oh my god…" Wincing in sympathy, Gwen made a face. At six-foot-something, she was not light like Elvia. "Keri, are you alright?"
"I am… fine," Le Guevel's mouth spoke without moving.
"And you need to keep your chin up— Mind your expression, dear." Magus Le Guevel recovered through sheer force of will. "You're not Devouring. You're dancing."
Gwen did her best to put on a felicitous expression while her instructor attempted to regain her mobility.
"This time, follow my lead." Her tutor took Gwen by the fingers. "Chin up— poise is the point of the cotillion. We'll get you into a corset and petticoat soon, kitten."
"Er… please don't." Gwen rigidly swung her limbs, at once thrilled and horrified by the prospect. To her chagrin, her upper body and lower body appeared to possess separate nervous systems. "How is this so hard?"
"Be patient, dear. As with Spellcraft, you'll get there."
"Why is this necessary again?" Gwen sighed. "Isn't this sort of thing outdated?"
"The cotillion? Outdated?" Magus Le Guevel snapped back indignantly. "Exclusivity is the point, kitten. Besides, how do you expect to spend your days and nights in high society? Show off your crates of HDMs? Compare Magic Items? God forbid you debate politics in public! A good mixer, pussy cat, is diplomacy! Be it a quadrille or a tango or a grand waltz— they'll tell you more about a man than any words. If your horizontal fandango is as uncoordinated as your vertical waltz—"
"Do you doubt our lesson, young noviciate?"
"I wouldn't use so strong a word." Gwen shook out her stiff arms. "I get it. But it's not Mind Magic."
"So you do doubt." Le Guevel snorted back. "Take my hand. I will show you. Are you familiar with the box step?"
"I might be." Gwen met her instructor's fingers with her own. Le Guevel's sinews were taut like piano wires, expert and in control, a stark contrast to her own.
"Let's begin." Le Guevel led her forward, placing a palm so intimately against Gwen's tapered waist that Gwen's face grew flushed. In the next moment, when the illusory-music began to play, student and instructor stood skin to skin, an inch apart, with Le Guevel's breath warm on the nape of her exposed neck while around them, a vague Blue Danube lulled from bar to bar. At first, her steps continued its confusion, but once she fell in rhythm with the tempo, her body felt far more natural.
Le Guevel's unorthodox lessons continued.
"From the subtle tremors of your partner's hand, you may sense their sincerity. This close, you can feel the rush of heat under their skin when they lie."
Once the Waltz got going, Gwen felt as though caught in a trance. When was the last time she danced with someone in either of her two lives?
"Good… now that we are joined at the hip— answer a question for me."
"Go on." Gwen allowed her body to follow its instincts. Was it the human touch she craved? It had been weeks since she took her dose of Evee.
"Kitten. Are your feelings for Miss Lindholm the result of indiscriminate longing for companionship?"
Gwen retreated a step, tripped over her ankles, then overcorrected by pulling on her instructor and swinging her right foot forward.
"See how easily you can unbalance an opponent?" the Illusionist spoke through clenched teeth.
"... Sorry about your shoes."
"You should be." Her teacher studied the ceiling, her expression unflappable. "They're Parisian."
The Isle of Man.
The Angel of Douglas, famous on Vid-cast, would have preferred being roasted in the interior of a Manx effigy to her present assignment.
Never in all her eighteen years of life had she ever entertained the notion that someone was better off staying dead on her operating table. The very idea that leaving a woman to bleed out from a Serpent Curse could prevent unimaginable miseries had never occurred to Elvia before— and now that it did, she suffered for it.
Perhaps if Gwen were here, her savvy friend would know what to do, come up with an endearing excuse. Herself was woefully equipped to deal with the demands of her present dilemma. After surviving GOS, after the bullying and the hazing and the alienation, after Mathias and Red Peak and the Yinglong; she had thought herself fortified against the Wildlands.
But not, apparently, against the depth of human depravity.
Even now— this very instant that she worked her magic, a part of her wanted to snuff out the life pressed between her forefinger and her thumb. It would be so easy, a little push, a nudge, and the suffering sinner would face the highest court of justice. But just as likely, her present patient could be innocent and ignorant, like her.
The dissonance was enough to drive her mad.
"Sen-sen, Kiki, we're done here." Elvia raised her bloody hands. "Nurse, clean up. Sergeant Smith should wake up in an hour."
"Yes, Dr Lindholm!" Her trio of assistant nurses obeyed without question. Unlike at GOS or Nightingale, numbers were the only thing that mattered in a field hospital. For Elvia, her accumulative success had gained her respect, adoration and faith.
A worship she had welcomed with complete innocence until she found the mangled Manx boy outside the fort. Now, every near-cadaver that passed through her station made her question her credo. Nonetheless, she instinctually healed each of her patients, knowing that the responsibilities of a physician were intrinsic. She was not judge and jury, and she would not be the executioner either, even if she suspected their crimes.
"I'll be making the rounds," Elvia informed the guards as she passed, inviting winsome smiles and wholehearted salutes. Her Spirits, the sauntering Sen-sen and her gliding Alraune, likewise received benedictions in the form of Prime Element LDMs harvested from the isle's interior.
Outside the triage tent, Mathias was already waiting.
"Elvia." Mathias appeared to have not slept for some time. The young Knight's eyes were sallow despite her vitality-infusions. Her protector too had suffered from the burden of knowledge. "I've just come back from the Brig. They've rounded up more of them since this morning."
Mathias shook his head. "Civvies, both men and women. I heard the militia gloat about the Colonel's latest ventures. They say she raided one of their Grots."
"Kiki!" The petals on Elvia's Alraune grew scarlet.
"Where's the Colonel now?"
"Out foraging, again; she should be back in the evening."
Foraging— Elvia shuddered. If only she knew what that meant the first time.
Elvia attempted to weigh the pros and cons of her desired action, but her head was a scrambled mess of wants and wishes, preventing an informed decision. But then again, it didn't matter. She would follow her heart first; what was the alternative? Leave the locals to suffer needlessly?
Very quickly, she made for the lower reaches of the encampment, where new Manx prisoners were covertly fed into "The Brig". From the courtyard, she crossed the murder holes, passing by Mages who stopped to wave. Once down the cliff face steps and through the carved out line-break, she and Mathias arrived at a secondary court levelled from the hillside by ancient Earthen Transmuters. Though the fort's upper tier was new, the structure itself was a chimeric mess of encampments from each of the "Manx Wars" spanning the centuries.
Opposite Fort Nook's hillside, Elvia could see the Port of Douglas. During the 14th century, the original fort served as a bastion for English forces under Henry V. Together with Avalon on the isle's north-east, and Fort Erin nearer the isle's south, the triple locale serviced London's sovereignty.
The Brig was divorced from the main encampment, located in a part of the fort that few would visit. Were it not for the boy and Mathias' subsequent enquiries, Elvia would not have even known it existed and would have blithely restored every monster that came her way.
"Dr Lindholm, Ser Rothwell." The guards at the grated gates stood to attention. Their faces were friendly, but their body language spoke of wariness. "This area is out of bounds."
"But not to one executing duties as a member of the medical staff." Elvia gave them the most charming grin she could muster, fighting the self-loathing and wondering how Gwen dealt with bad people so readily. "Please open the gate. Cleanliness is Godliness. I'd hate to treat you all for infections."
The guards' mien took on complicated expressions. "Ma'am, the Colonel has given an explicit command to bar you from entry."
"It is dangerous for an august personage like yourself to visit the Brig. These Manx, they're animals."
"And the Angel of Douglas can't be aiding and abetting an enemy," the younger of the guards, a corporal, repeated something he must have heard from a higher up.
"I am afraid he's right." The senior of the two scratched his nose. "You're a member of civ-staff as well. You need permission. I am sorry, Doc."
Elvia looked to Mathias.
"Corporal." Mathias stepped forward. "As a Knight of St Michael, I have extra-special powers of inspection regarding her Majesty's armed forces. As such, I shall now exercise—"
The cry that came from below was barely a whisper. The walls were thick stone reinforced by rebar. Whatever happened beyond the rusty portcullis, occurred in darkness, out of sight and out of mind. That was the purpose of the Brig.
Elvia grew momentarily paralysed by that terrible sound. "Mattie, tell them to let me in."
"Ma'am—" The guards placed their hands on the pommel of their wands. "There is no—"
"LET ME IN!" Before Mathias could speak, Elvia felt the heat rise in her chest. With her Essence-enhanced senses, she could hear the scream again, and to her chagrin, she knew the owner. It was the Manx boy. God damn it! God damn these bottled spiders! These abortive devils! How could they?! "Sen-sen!"
"Sen!" Her Ginseng Sprite obeyed without delay, impairing the pair with a crash of fear so poignant it may as well be liquid.
The men vomited, reduced to jelly as they prostrated on the floor. Facing the miserable cretins, Elvia erased all conflicted feeling of guilt. For the "Fear" to truly work its wickedness, the user had to infuse the aura with harmful intent and emotion— and right now, she was anything but a walking Tower of fury and vengeance.
"Elvia." Mathias stood in her way. "They're just following orders."
Elvia did not agree. God gave all men the infinite faculty of choice, and these men had made theirs. "Sen. Take the gate down."
The ground cracked. A dozen tendrils as thick as Elvia's waist sprouted from the diminutive Sen-sen, forming a bizarre and disproportionate spectacle. Once the Ginseng dug in, it took only two tugs for the metal to warp, then for the gate itself to be wholly removed from the Warded walls, resulting in a shower of zig-zagging mana.
"Assuming there's a next time." Mathias watched while Kiki subdued the guards with a sting to their necks. "Let me cut the gate. At least that would be repairable."
Saying nothing, Elvia entered the horridly dank stairway leading downward into the Brig. Once a medieval castle, the fort's under-chambers previously served as storage. It was built from dark stone naturally resistant to magic, especially the kind wielded by the Druids of the isle.
"I'll lead." Mathias pushed his body in front of her. Elvia nodded. There was the likelihood of physical traps in a place like Fort Nook, with its history of perpetual war going back millennia and more.
A level later, the Knight's worries had been proven false. There were no flesh-turning Warding Glyphs. There was, however, the mercenaries.
Spak! The sound of a Magic Missile pinging off Mathias' Armour of Faith resounded sharply in the corridor.
Ahead of Elvia, her Knight growled. Mathias appeared calm on the surface, but his biometrics spoke only of fury.
"SMITE!" The Knight glowed briefly golden as the spell struck. The impact was followed shortly by the sound of a shattering shield, then the muffled thunk of a body hitting the floor.
Around the corner, the Knight's victim came into view. A middle-aged Mage, one of the many recruited by the Colonel, a "volunteer".
"Healing Word!" Elvia made sure their assailant lived to pay for his crimes.
"This way." Mathias pointed to the door from which the merc had emerged.
Inside was another guard; one Mathias politely dispatched— though that was no business of Elvia's.
She ran instead to the hog-tied silhouette in the cell and tore the tendon-like ropes with her bare fingers. When the boy came into view, Elvia's blood curdled.
Presently, he was naked and unconscious, breathing in alternating rhythms of fast and slow. His arms and legs, and the area near his ribs, were covered in little black scabs. His head was shaved bald, and worst of all, the long, tapered ears the Manx had inherited from their Elven forefathers had been hacked down to the stump.
Elvia's fingers trembled even as Mathias audibly swore, infringing on his oath.
A week ago. A WEEK AGO! She and Mathias had found him below the fort, in a pile of indiscriminate trash. The dying boy was covered in the same wounds from neck to groin. Disturbed, Elvia had healed the boy then and there, inadvertently saving his life. She and Mathias had argued, then they allowed the boy to flee.
Afterwards, Mathias had made enquiries, and that was when they found "The Brig". The same knowledge revealed why the Colonel had earlier arrived at Elvia's operation table riddled with arrows, why three-dozen Manx, two Druids among them, had risked and lost their lives to ambush the Isle's commander.
Beside the boy, on an old, rickety table laden with rusted tools, Mathias picked up the boy's file.
"It says here..." The Knight's tone could crack the stonework. "There has been a confession. A confession that the Manx had stolen from the granary, from the fort itself, from the townsfolk. It says there's going to be an armed rebellion, and that in a month, there will be an all-out war against the kingdom. It says here that the boy is a spy, a scout."
"Bastards!" Elvia bit back the bitter beginnings of seething tears. She willed Kiki to inject the boy with a dose of pleasant dreams, then with the greatest delicacy, she infused the Manx child with a vivifying surge of Essence-laced Positive Energy.
The boy stirred, awoken by the bone-scraping itch of mending flesh. When the scabs fell from his body, Elvia could see that this time, there was no restoring his ears. The cartilage was sawed off. There would be no intervention without higher magics.
The boy fought to open his eyes. When they finally did, his orbs were full of vacant violence, when he opened his mouth—
The boy's teeth, or the lack of it, turned her stomach.
"Calm Emotion! Bless!" She blasted the boy with twin fortification, one for the mind and the other for the body.
"Deirfiúr!" The boy spoke sloppily, bewildered by his surroundings, his eyes swimming in their sockets. The Calm Emotion had hidden the horror, but lucidity brought new terrors to his waking mind. "Deirfiúr! Deirfiúr!"
"What's Deirfiúr?" Elvia looked to Mathias, who had a Translation Stone.
"... sister." Mathias swallowed.
"... Mathias..." Elvia could no longer think straight. Quickly, she doused herself with Sen-sen's latent Essence, flooding her conduits with a tolerance she could not otherwise possess.
"I'll go on ahead." Her Knight volunteered. Spellsword in hand, the warden of St Michael's Oath proceeded down the corridor, moving out of sight, hollering for who else was left in the Brig to give themselves up.
Inside the small cell, Elvia asked her Ginseng to bundle the boy in a nest of tendrils. Kiki sprayed the corridor with neurotoxins in case more of the island's militia arrived.
Furiously, she turned her mind over and over, trying to think of a way forward. If there was one solace, it was that thanks to Gwen's uninvited vid-cast, her present reputation had her high on an unwanted pedestal. A dozen senior Maguses like Fitzgerald and even the Colonel herself owed her their health. It meant that no matter the Colonel's rage, she would have to weigh her options before confronting her.
What must she do to expose the isle's commander? Elvia queried herself. The confession the boy had signed made him an enemy combatant. There would be duplicates, even if Mathias burned the folder. If the Manx boy were human, the Tower would afford him certain rights, but as a demi-human—
Elvia glanced at the vacant boy, restored but for his teeth and ears. The Manx, with their olive-hued dermis, came in colours ranging from sweet birch to chocolate mahogany. Their eyes, much larger than a human's, were fox-like and vivifying, not unlike Gwen's. With their high cheekbones and petite mouths, the long-living demi-humans appeared younger than their years.
Subhuman, according to the Colonel— but human enough for Elvia to hate her own kind.
But feelings aside, her present dilemma remained. She had effectively broken into the isle's private prison and attacked its men. How could she turn this around? What would Gwennie do?
An urgent Message came from Mathias. In between the warded walls, Elvia could hear the distinct sound of her Knight's Radiant Rays scorching the stonework, as well as the familiar din of rapid spell casting from his opponents.
"Follow me, stay close." Elvia placed the half-conscious youth between herself and Kiki, sending Sen-sen to lead the way.
Past the muggy, low-ceiling corridor and its ancient stonework, she came upon the guard's quarters. Within, Mathias had subdued the mercenaries by slicing their drinking table in twain, along with the wine and the cans of bully beef, scorching the cards and the gambling chips with his Radiant Aura.
Elvia could see that her Knight shook with barely contained fury. His armament, a suit of Faith-laced Mage armour empowered by a minor Relic of St Michael, glimmered on and off like a bulb.
With her arrival, Mathias stared so hard Elvia was half-way tempted to bestow a Calm Emotion on her companion. Numerically, the diagnostic overlay of her enchanted eyes marked the young man's hypertension as well-past two-hundred. "Blackguards! Traitors to the Mageocracy! The honour..."
Elvia sighed. She moved past Mathias, past the four singed Mages standing with their faces to the wall, then looked into the dozen or so cells spanning the lower reach of the makeshift dungeon.
The first two cells held victims of harsh interrogation. The third held something far worse.
"Don't look!" Mathias was still far too overprotective.
Elvia recalled the story Gwen once told of her finding such a scene in the lair of a Water Ghost chieftain. What Gwen tried to narrate, her diagnostic magic told her far more than she could ever desire to know. The Manx female would live, that much she could ascertain— for the mercenaries' cruel sport, as well as the extorted confession, a live victim was necessary.
And all of this was the work of the Colonel. The same platinum-haired, blue-eyed Colonel who had publically commended her, kissing her cheeks! Now the thrice-damned demoness was once again out there, foraging for the Manx— all thanks to Elvia.
"… I'll melt this place to magma." Mathias' fury came across in a silent Message. "Evee, the shame… it's too much. How could this happen? We're long past the Beast Tide, and yet, these Mages are worse than the Beastmen. Now we know why the common folk can't ever be in command!"
Elvia had no answers for her Knight-companion. She wasn't Gwen, who could fathom everything. What she did have, however, was the beginnings of an idea that only she could enact. As a famous no one who belonged to no House, no Faction, and whose patrons paid only in lip service, she was free— free and unindentured to do what was necessary. What was the worst that could happen— could they send her to another Frontier to heal the needy? Restore the NoMs?
Thinking of her attention-loving partner, an idea coalesced.
"Mattie," Elvia spoke while Kiki kept the guards dreaming until kingdom come. "Are the reporters still in Douglas?"
"Reporters?" Mathias did not comprehend her purpose. "If they are, they'll be at the port, drinking at the Sea Shanty."
"Get Dominic." Elvia willed Kiki to do her thing. "Contact the base, sound the alarm. Tell everyone to bring everyone. Every lumen-recorder…"
Realisation dawned on her partner's face.
"Evee— I can take care of this. I swore an oath to uphold what's good. The militia can't fault me without infringing on the Knights' Code. But you…"
"No, it's fine," Elvia shook her head. She was involved now. "Who needs an 'oath' to do what's right?"
Elvia activated her Message Device as well. She had no idea who was in cahoots, nor did she care. The horrors here must be brought into the light.
The Message spell chimed. Elvia greeted the man responsible for her presence on the isle.
"Elvia?" the sound of Magus Fitzgerald's gravelly voice sounded concerned. "What's the matter? You sound upset."
"Sir," Elvia needed no acting to voice her rioting emotions. "I need you to come down to the southern end of Fort Nook. I found something, and I need your help."
The Lord Earl Marshall of Britain was in the middle of a meeting when the news broke that the timed Warding Glyph regarding Tonglv had erupted spectacularly.
Outside, mid-conversation with his agent in Hong Kong, a second Crow from the Fifth Cabal arrived with developing events from the Isle of Man. Thanks to their man there, Dominic Lorenzo, the Foreign Service had gained twenty-four hours to frame the narrative before the news-cycle struck.
Unfazed, the Duke of Norfolk communed with his officers, then reclused himself to the executive suite reserved for the Lord Marshall of England, deep within the tiered halls of the Westminster Palace.
Once seated, Mycroft cooly massaged his temples, relaxed his brows, then settled down to think.
That the communists' capitalist venture would implode had been within expectations.
Conversely, the Isle of Man was an ongoing headache. There was nothing like conflict close to home to burden the population with war fatigue. Now, the sentiment would only sour.
On the surface, the two events would appear separate.
But beneath the beneath, Mycroft could see the interconnected ley-lines.
For Shanghai, what his agents had failed to foresee, was that a teenage Void Sorceress would rope a family of Mythics into managing a portion of Tonglv's revenue stream. That and her patron was Ruxin, newly minted Lord of Nagaland, Kachin and Manipur, the offspring of the mythical Yinglong. To complicate matters, with Yangoon's Tower underway, his Faction considered Ruxin a vital ally for regional stability.
As for the twin-Spirted troublemaker in Fort Nook spoiling Colonel Tarleton's stratagem, the same sorceress was responsible.
How was it all correlated? The seemingly disjointed nature of what should be interconnected was what grated on Mycroft's nerves.
With an outreached Mage Hand, Mycroft punched an unseen Glyph. The cold air circulating the room thrummed, coalescing until it formed a vague, female silhouette. Ravenport closed his eyes and calmly meditated, wary of the Negative Energy flowing underfoot, feeding the Mandala etched into the ancient woodwork.
Across from the Marshall's table, nearer the centre of the room, the shadow of unlife grew substantial, birthing red cloth like velvety wine from an open casket. Atop the fount of falling fabric, a white face blossomed, wreathed in braided strands of crow-black hair.
"My lord." The female figure bowed her head.
"Morrigan." Ravenport dipped his chin. "I require clarification."
"Of course. Your tithe?"
The Duke of Norfolk extended his hand, from his palm, a single orb of sanguine blood drifted forward. Tenderly, the spectre parted her mouth, resting the droplet on her wanton tongue.
"You should cut down on the sugar." The phantom licked her lips. "Very well, by oath and hearth— How may I serve?"
Ravenport gathered his thoughts. His thrall-Sprite had little patience for matters outside its domain.
"I want everything gathered by the Crows, foreign and domestic, on the subject of Gwen Song, correlated with the Tonglv Project in Nantong. Search array should be between 2003 to late 2004. Process the reports in order of incidence, add keywords for the Dragons of Huangshan— Yinglong, Ayxin, Ruxin, Golos."
"Gwen Song. Understood."
Like rich wine soaking into the corduroy carpet, Morrigan sunk unto the Mandala, burrowing into the vaults beneath Westminster Palace, where a million shelves housed the unfathomable volumes necessary in running an Empire as broad in scope as the Mageocracy.
It took the phantom only fifteen minutes to return.
One by one, the reports opened themselves for Ravenport's convenience, held in a semi-circle before and above the Duke in the manner of an orchestral pit surrounding a wanded conductor.
Each by each, the dossiers appeared unenterprising.
Together, they were enough to construe a fanciful tale of events unfolding first in Nagaland, then Yangoon, then Nantong and Shanghai. After a focused hour, Mycroft concluded that the Mageocracy needed to invest more analysts to evaluate the intelligence filtering in from Hong Kong and Shanghai. The Communists had censored much of the information surrounding the Dragons of Huangshan, but the tale-telling facts had not been missed— only disregarded.
In hindsight, was the girl's involvement coincidental or explicit? If the latter, when had she begun to sow the seeds of change? Around the time of the IIUC? Or earlier?
"Morrigan, arrange the dossier via chronology and region, start with Shanghai, then Yangoon, Kachin, Huangshan, Dalian and finally Shenyang."
"As you wish."
With hindsight and a dozen hovering files floating around him, Mycroft Ravenport tentatively appended the missing connections.
"… Morrigan, bring forward all articles with mentions of Gwen Song."
The scarlet phantom performed as was told.
Mycroft Ravenport sighed.
The emerging pattern told an unlikely tale. How could a single human Mage bring about such radical change? If Gwen Song rivalled Sobel, and if Kilroy still worked behind the scenes, then maybe, he was willing to entertain the possibility. But according to these reports, the girl had no political backing, no Factional membership, and no more than a dozen spells, none above the sixth tier.
What was the source of Maxine's confidence? What of Gunther Shultz, was he involved? Now, he had to make good on the promise of finding the girl an apt instructor, the means for which lay in Snowdonia.
Mycroft felt a peculiar thrill as his gaze swept over the levitating reports. A part of him detested the scandal of being humbled by so young an opponent. Another part of him welcomed a skilled adversary, one whose potential, adequately directed, could bolster the Mageocracy's upward momentum.
Out of habit, his skeletal fingers drummed the ancient oak of the brass-bound Griffin-hide throne. Curiously, his rumoured bastard was settling into London wholeheartedly.
According to Morrigan, the girl held unnatural affections for Fort Nook's troublemaker. Concurrently, the Order of the Bath was closely following the healer's performance on the isle. If so, regardless of the Knight Elector's decision, he could put in a petition to have the girl inducted.
There was also the girl's first cousin, Richard, presently studying at King's College. Like the Cleric, the prior Prince's candidate, an ambitious young man with a steady hand for Crow work, was a seed worth cultivating.
Additionally, according to Cambridge, yet another family member was on the way. What had prompted the memo on Petra Kuznetsova was the girl's prior history as a Red Ghost in training from Moscow Tower, a femme fatale abandoned by the late "Master" Popov.
Finally, there was Dominic Lorenzo, soon to become the girl's confidant.
A secret smile touched the Duke of Norfolk's lips. There was undoubtedly much work to be done.
"Thank you, Morrigan. That will be all. Please keep a bird on our Void Sorceress at all times."
"Understood." The spectre dissolved. Gradually, the secret room regained its previous temperature.
Mycroft Ravenport finally relaxed.
The lass was a hellcat to be sure.
Just as well, fortune and success made for snug collars.