The next day, Gwen immediately regretted tipsy-griping to Petra.
At Mudchute Manor, after a hearty bacon breakfast served by NoM servants, Wally broke the news that Dominic Lorenzo had arrived— as well as karma in the lovely form of Elvia Lindholm.
Gwen stared at Petra in wide-eyed self-loathing. Her cousin glared back, daring her to act upon what they had previously discussed.
"I'll leave it to you." She left the table, urging immediate commitment. "Are we going over now?"
"Yeah, I've been expecting Dom for a while now." Gwen put down her utensils. "This is the same Dominic who has been helping out Evee on the Isle of Man to relocate the Manx. He's a good guy."
"Then I better keep an eye on him." Petra stretched out her limbs as if to announce her limberness. "Shall we jog down to the docks? I dare say the Dwarven masters are expecting me."
Their chosen route took the girls from Mudchute down to Millwall Park, then down to A-12-06, where they dodged the occasional honking lorry to take the long way through Cubitt Town. Past Marsh Wall, they took a left through a semi-cleared field used to deposit construction materials, then arrived through Millwall proper at the outer dock print works.
Clunk! Clunk! CLUNK! Mana vapour, steam and construction dust clouded the air over the printing press.
The mantis-Fabricator and the Master Engine was busy at work churning out steel girders for the crew of workmen gathered around the eastern section of the warehouse, now cleared of debris. The Diggers, now armed with new Spellswords, hung from the rafters, were welding together sheets of metal, showing the NoMs below with sparks.
One of the Journeymen Dwarves was instructing the NoM jockeys Walken had recruited on the use of the industrial Golem units abandoned at the factory, while nearer the loading bay Journeymen stripped a printing engine down to its rusty frames.
Inside, Nestain and Doussed patrolled the mess of conveyor belts, replacing parts and tinkering with mechanisms deemed too inferior for the new streamlined design. Gwen reminded herself to ask Walken about the rogue flyer-printers as they passed the roller-tower, realising that at this rate, they would need skilled staff before the end of March.
The pair found the handsome figure of Dominic Lorenzo at the western end, observing the construction of their provisional editorial office. The immediate objective involved a three-storey addition to the extensive warehouse, one that would house two dozen staffs, as well as an overseer's office for Gwen's weekly audits. For now, the exterior facade was Soviet in functionality, a factor Gwen would remedy once the paper was up and running.
"Gwen!" Dominic approached, tired and haggard with his shirt-collar open to the cold. "Here I am. Freshly unemployed after the debacle at the Isle of Man."
"Seriously?" Gwen raised both brows. "Why?"
"It's against journalistic code to intervene in an incident, no matter how dire," Lorenzo explained. "Don't worry. I knew the consequences before I acted. With the Manx relocating, the outcome is far better than what Colonel Tarleton would have done to them."
"Then I am equally happy and appalled— thanks for staying to help Evee, by the way." Gwen nodded in agreement. "This is Petra, my cousin and fellow Magus at Cambridge. Pats, this is Mister Lorenzo, Alesia's old war buddy. I think the two of you should get along just fine."
The reporter and her cousin shook, each studying one another. Gwen watched their expressions. One was an ex-cadet for the Red Ghost program. The other, according to Alesia, was a reporter who moonlighted as British intelligence.
"Where's Elvia." Gwen's eyes scanned the docks.
"She's gone to the clinic." Dominic pointed to Millwall.
"That makes sense." Gwen hoped she had not ironically jogged past Elvia and snubbed her companion while distractedly thinking about her. "I'll seek her out later. You're early, Dom. It'll be a week or two before the office is habitable. That said, there's quite a bit I need you to do."
"I can start today if you like." Lorenzo didn't mind the lack of a workspace. "I spoke to Magister Walken while waiting for you. He mentioned an employment contract?"
"Yes, though that was more specifically aimed at Eric, considering his history."
Lorenzo's tone grew solemn. "Aye, I can see why. What about the rest of us? Or the personnel I'll need?"
"Non-magical contracts will suffice." Gwen scanned the streets once more, then pointed toward Millwall. "Some new shops have opened up, how about morning tea while we talk?"
"Much obliged." Dominic waited for Gwen to lead the way. "You're lucky to have Miss Lindholm. Your friend might have the mien of an angel, but she works like a demon."
"Ha." Gwen laughed to hide her awkwardness. "I'll believe that."
Petra scoffed; Gwen suppressed the colour in her cheeks while they made for the new hole-in-the-wall eatery.
A block past the printing press, the Olive Canary cafe was run by an enterprising NoM family from Marsh Wall. The new owners of the lot had done their best with the partitioned warehouse and had even put out a plaque that said "Dwarves Welcome" in chalk. To promote small business on the isle, Gwen had offered rent-grants for up to six months.
Once seated, the trio ordered scones, cream, jam, and a big jug of English Breakfast. Gwen categorised her thoughts, banished her immediate solicitudes, then began illuminating her designs for Dominic.
"To clarify, the entity you will be helming for is our free Newspaper, the 'Metro Express', operating under the Isle of Dogs Development Corporation." Gwen mimed a few squares with her fingers, and several hovering rectangles in shades of jade came into view. Hers was a demonstration of "PowerPoint 2.0"— now with added sophistication thanks to Le Guevel's tuition. "The Executive Committee, which thus far consists of myself, Eric, and Lady Grey, will be the administrators— though we're figureheads. Lady Grey is providing the clout, I am providing the Crystals, and you can think of Walken as our deputy."
"And myself?" Dominic poked a finger at one of her illusory rectangles. When his fingers fell through, the man muttered a "Hmm..."
"You're our Editor-in-Chief," she replied while willing an orange tag into place. "The rest is flexible. What hierarchal structure have you got in mind?"
"Editor-in-chief, Editors, then News Editors," Lorenzo replied, watching with wonder as Gwen added the text-boxes one by one. "I also want editors for Spellcraft, Economics, Politics, Local News, and a Feature section. These then have sub-Editors, who double as our on-the-ground staff."
"Which would be the Reporters, Staff Writers, and?"
"Correspondents." Her editor filled in the blanks.
Gwen re-arranged the impromptu organisational chart. "Good— That's what I had in mind as well. How optimistic are you feeling about finding staff? I am offering one-year contracts, NoM or Mage doesn't matter. Pay is ten per cent above market rate, with a raised ceiling for performance bonuses. I can also offer a month's pay in advance. All petty-cash costs can be reclaimed, pending audit."
"That's very generous. I believe we can fill the top positions by April if that's what you're offering." Lorenzo materialised a Lumen-recorder, then took a snapshot of Gwen's infographic. "Say, that's a novel way of using Project Image. What do you call it?"
"… PowerPoint," Gwen replied without an ounce of guilt. "Two capitalised P's. One word. I'll submit it to the Tower's Grimoire in the future."
"How interesting." Lorenzo served up a scone, chewed thoughtfully, then swallowed. "Say, can I ask an audacious question?"
"Of course you can, Lorrie." Gwen adjusted her legs while scanning the Millwall end of the street for any suddenly-appearing Clerics.
"How do you know the free Newspaper isn't a massive waste of Crystals? Your predecessors all failed to deliver a profitable Newspaper. The Guardian is only hanging on because of its political backers and as a counter to the Herald and the Telegraph. Why should the Metro survive when others did not? The Herald Sun has extensive access to the affairs of the Nobility, and the Telegraph is well-connected politically. What's our sell?"
"Circulation!" Gwen answered without hesitation. Straightening her spine, she sat tall in her chair to applaud the healthy scepticism shown by Lorenzo. "The Metro will have a level of circulation unmatched by any other. Our profitability will come from sponsored adverts for products— and weekly classifieds for services."
"Where do you get the confidence? Merely because the Metro Express is free?"
"Because we're filling a market gap," Gwen explained with patience. "Best of all, the other papers won't be able to replicate our success without ruining their editorial board."
"How do you mean?"
"We'll diversify content." Gwen conjured a few more PowerPoint rectangles into the air, this time in blue. "Imagine us having three main sections— News, Features, and Spellcraft. Our news needn't be breaking news because the Metro is weekly and merely summarise it. Likewise, our manifesto is to appear non-partisan, so we'll always stake a position in between the Guardian, the Sun Herald and the Telegraph, or fact-check for the Sun if they feel disinclined."
Lorenzo pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Hmm. I'd like that."
"Good. Besides, the point of our Newspaper isn't the news, not exactly. It's more of a privately-owned self-sustained public service. In the Feature section, we're going to have the following things— entertainment and human interest stories for Mages and NoMs, like interviewing Evee for example, or successful NoMs, like the owners of the Tower of Tandoori. There'll be a letter to the Editor page, where people can give opinions or ask for advice. I want a relationship column where people can talk about their love life— or lack of one."
"There's lots of fun to be had," Gwen continued, her words coming as a torrent. "Since our principal avenue of distribution is the public transport system— imagine a section where readers can send in letters to strangers they're attracted to while taking the tube. 'Hi, my name is Wally, and I saw this gorgeous Fire Evoker with red hair on the six o'clock express from High Street to Mile End. I would love to speak with her'— you get me? We'll focus on Human interest and localised content. Additionally, we'll be adding lifestyles pages, the hottest new adventuring locations, Magical Item advice, and even food recipes. We're a must-read Weekly."
"That is… very interesting." Lorenzo licked his lips. "And you're right. I can't imagine the Herald or the Telegraph trying to copy our success. It would change the scope of their tabloid."
"AND ours is free—" Gwen chuckled. "I've gathered enough bodies on the isle to have two-men-teams standing at every exit from Heathrow to Stratford, giving out the papers for free. People can take it, or not, but I'll tell you what. They'll be seeing it at the bus stops, on the tables in cafe shops; the Metro will be everywhere— always within hand's reach whether folks need it or not."
"And that's not all. When I was speaking to Lady Grey, she said that I should offer something to the Shard to stay on their good side. I've since decided that two 'central' pages will be dedicated as a public announcement channel for the Tower and their quests— free of charge."
Lorenzo furrowed his brows. "Why free? The other papers charge the Shard a fortune to post its Quest listings."
"Ha!" Gwen willed away her illusions. "Circulation, my dear Lorenzo! Every Mage in London will want to have a stickybeak at our free Newspaper because it'll be easily within hands' reach, cost-free. On that alone, we'll have guaranteed readership among the Mages."
"— Gwen, everything you just said sounds incredibly ambitious," Petra intervened. "Now that you've shown me the extent of it, I have to say I have no idea how much it all costs."
"All enterprises cost money." Gwen swung a scone toward the direction of the printing press. "If we had failed to find our Dwarven compatriots, and if they had not provided us with the men and the equipment, I would not have rushed in at all. Without the volume to reach market saturation— and without the reduced cost of mass production— the system simply will not work."
"How much have you… has the company spent so far?" Lorenzo asked.
"About eight-thousand HDMS," Gwen confessed. "That's only one-fifth of the initial budget. I anticipate we'll be in the red for about a year. After that, a healthy parity should happen within twenty-four months, and once our circulation stabilises, we'll see profitability within three years. Eric has a copy of my business report if you're keen."
"You've written a business report? Alright. I'll seek out Master Walken." Lorenzo slapped his thighs. "I don't know what to say. Gwen. Are you sure you're eighteen?"
"I am an old soul." Gwen laughed once or twice. "What can I say? My impoverished upbringing in Sydney has got me running scared."
"You're the richest sorceress I know." Petra upended her humblebrag with a scoff. "You could probably bribe half the Mages in Moscow. In Russia, we call folk like you Oligarchs. They're an evil lot."
Gwen flashed her cousin a sardonic smile. "Not true, I'd say where they're a problem, I am the cure. Money has to flow, Pats, why do you think they called it 'currency'? Anyway, Dom, there's also something else I need you to do."
"I am all ears."
"As with the old Victorian rags, I am thinking of including a serial-fiction section, in preparation for our paperback side of the press business," she explained. "I've got a few interesting manuscripts in my head, but I need ghostwriters to get them manifested. Do you know anyone good at such a thing?"
Dominic drank the rest of his coffee, then mulled for a minute. "I think so. Are NoMs acceptable?"
"More so than Mages for what I've got in mind— ideally someone unattached and unaffiliated." Gwen nodded. "They need to have real talent. I won't be wasting these one-of-a-kind ideas on lacklustre freelancers. When you find them, bring them to me. I'll conduct an interview— and we'll clarify the rules and incentives."
"Sounds reasonable," the reporter said. "Before I go— will you be meeting with Miss Lindholm later?"
"I will." Gwen looked toward the direction of the clinic once more.
"I see. I've apologised already to Miss Elvia for taking advantage of her goodwill, but let me apologise to you as well, Magus Song," Lorenzo spoke with sincerity. "The publication, the story I broke— I fear I took some liberties with the truth. It was I who subverted the Elves— and I used your infamy, Gwen, as the Devourer of Shenyang to do so."
"Really?" Gwen was surprised she felt not a single mote of wonderment at the declaration. Why should she when Militant pacifism was the whole schtick with her Void Magic? Likewise, it wasn't as though Alesia didn't boast about Lorenzo being an operative. "Can you clarify?"
With the succinctness of a professional columnist, Lorenzo explained his case, beginning with Elvia's discovery of Tarleton's strategy, and ending with their expedition to the Enclave of Tir-Mara.
"I am not averse to your decision." Gwen forgave her editor, then looked to Petra for advice. "All's well that ends well, at least for now. Pats?"
"Mister Lorenzo, are you a Cabalist?" Petra's next question made Gwen want to cover her cousin's lips. Whether or not Dominic worked for the secret service was for him to reveal. If they pried it from him, the implications weren't the same.
"I am with the Sixth," Dominic confessed, neither changing tone nor his facial expression. "That's all I can say. I don't think my role here will force a conflict of interest with my other profession— far from it; I would even say they're complementary. So long as our reporting remains neutral, and the paper isn't defaming the House of Windsor."
"We'll step carefully for sure," Gwen agreed. "I have high hopes for you, Dom."
"I understand," the spy concurred. "Thank you for trusting me."
"Better the devil we know." Petra nodded.
Lorenzo expressed his approval. "If there should be an impasse, my resignation should act as a canary of sorts. Please place your trust in me as Alesia would."
The two shook hands.
"I'll be going then." Lorenz stood. "Good luck with Miss Lindholm."
"Dom, what has Evee told you?"
"Not much, but she is not very good at hiding her sentiments."
"Then I'll be soon in contact with Magister Walken."
Compared to when he came, the reporter sauntered away with a lighter step.
"And now." Petra tugged at her elbow. "Let's get your other business sorted."
"Yes." She sighed. "Let's."
"Apply the poultice twice a day, and you should see a gradual improvement." Elvia Lindholm placed the satchel of infused herbs in the hands of the woman nodding like a bobbing hen. "The Lord's Blessing on you, Miss Robertson."
"Blessing on you as well, Dr Lindholm— please take this." A cotton sack emerged forth from the heavy duffle bag the woman had brought in. "It's taters' our nan grew in her yard. Nan's very proud of them, always said our family had the best mash on our lane…"
"Thank you." Elvia knew the line behind the woman was still a dozen patients long and so took the gift without complaint. "I'll be sure to enjoy them with Ser Mathias. He's very fond of potatoes."
Satisfied, the woman bent to kiss her hand, then retreated backwards, bowing as she made her exit.
Elvia's looked down at her fingers— the Contingency Ring on her ring finger felt so new, even though a lifetime of events had occurred since Gwen carelessly slipped on the band.
It had been a month since they had talked and Elvia would be dishonest if she said that she was not disappointed in her friend. As recent as yesterday, the locals had told her that Gwen was heard howling like a banshee at midnight, scaring the dog-sized sewer rats into submission.
But where was her friend now?
Back before the Yinglong's vision, Gwen would have burst through the door, barged through the patients, then embraced Elvia so fiercely she could scarcely breathe. Now— now there was no sight nor sound of her unconsummated lover.
"Next—" Elvia announced.
Her next patient seated himself.
Elvia looked up. It wasn't a sickly NoM that faced her now, but a middle-aged man with steel-grey hair and depthless blue eyes in a traditional tunic and cloak.
"Good morrow, Miss Lindholm." The gent indicated to a metallic brooch pinned near his collar bone, holding together two pieces of fabric that formed a stylish white-red shawl. The badge was that of a burnished sun, resplendent in its flames, crafted from some precious alloy Elvia could not recognise. In its centre, there sat a herald of three crowns, surrounded by a ring in guiles with the motto Tria Juncta In Uno in threaded gold. "I come seeking remedy for a dire injury."
Elvia licked her lips nervously. "Sir…"
"My arm, you see—" The man raised his left arm with some difficulty. "Was injured yesterday. My companions and I were in pursuit of a Sarasti Strigoi who proved to be an adept wielder of forbidden Blood Sorcery. We tracked it down to Szczecin, where a long and arduous battle took place. It's always hard capturing Vampires— a Strigoi in an urbanscape, more so..."
Slowly, the man disrobed a portion of his tunic, revealing a husk of an arm. "I have come to seek aid from one famed in bringing life to the withered and wasted."
"Er... I am not sure…" Elvia swallowed. "Lord…"
"Seneschal Adamus Ashburn." The man's smoky voice sounded like sifting shekel-shells. "My present agony is exquisite, Dr Lindholm. I hope you will not turn away someone too 'impoverished' to receive care from the Great Hospitals."
"I understand," Elvia replied, knowing that she understood nothing. The old Mage wasn't lying though. He was indeed in a great deal of pain, though his biometrics remained stable— likely as a result of pain-suppression techniques. As for the man's mangled arm, its mana conduits, blood-vessels and the musculature were all damaged by severe Negative Energy drain. If untreated, it would go into necrosis and need an amputation. "But I don't know how much I can do here— proper aid would have to be administered at Osmond Street, or Nightingale's."
"Please proceed as you would on a battlefield." The man took a deep breath. "My companions and I walked here from the Shard, then waited two hours to see you in person."
"You waited in line, milord?"
"There were others whose needs were greater or direr."
"I understand. Sen-sen— Kiki." Unsure of how to respond, Elvia coaxed her Familiar onto the table. "Please lend me your power to restore Seneschal Ashburn."
Elvia took a deep breath. "Bless! Aid!"
A gentle viridescence haloed outward from the Cleric as she invoked her sorcery, channelling the dormant, raw vitality of the Ginseng through her conduits and into her patient. Tapping into the unique blend of Essence-laced mana generated by her body, she goaded the Seneschal's arm into activating its remaining life force.
"I will now begin the Restoration. Please hold still." With two fingers on the Knight's wrist and her off-hand on his exposed chest, she activated the highest tier of healing spell she knew. Kiki's vine-tendrils wrapped around the man's shoulder as a make-shift tourniquet. Sweating, Elvia raised Sen-sen's tendrils. "Sir— the injection will sting."
"Kiki!" Her Alraune raised a perfumed bulb.
"Do not mind me," the old Knight spoke to the flower Sprite with kindness. "I need to see what your master can do."
Elvia willed Sen-sen to continue, excavating past the man's dermis to stimulate the deep-tissue directly. The process would take several minutes, and though the Seneschal's complexion changed colour from pale to flush to pale, he continued to speak.
"Miss Lindholm, are you learned in the Path of the Devoted? Has the hospice instructed you in participating in bearing our Lord's burden?"
"Yes, though I am a novitiate." Elvia lowered her eyes. "And my attendance at Mass has been lax of late."
"It is not attendance that marks the Faithful." The Seneschal materialised a sun-token from his storage ring. "Continue, Miss Lindholm. I shall now activate this icon of our Ordo, so that it may judge your worthiness."
Elvia wanted to protest, to tell the man to at least wait until his healing was done. Instead, the aura of fatherly benevolence from the Seneschal was so overwhelming that all she could do was nod.
Gently, the sun-token began to glow, first with a gradual radiance, then warmth, filling the air around them with illuminated threads of gold. Around the old Knight, she could see the thousands of threads as plain as day, flaxen and vivid, pointing like vectors toward something the man wore under his chin. As for herself, the hair-thin ribbons were faded and indistinct.
"Good, perfect—" The Seneschal smiled protectively. "You have aided many, Practitioner Lindholm, and here lies the proof."
"Is this Faith?" Elvia had only the most rudimentary understanding of Faith Magic. The college taught it as a form of latent energy, no different to mana, one generated by the strength of belief, harvested by Humanity since the pagan epoch under Egypt's God-Kings. Today, this distinct form of sorcery belonged almost exclusively to Humanities' organised religions.
"You are not wrong." The Seneschal's tone grew suddenly formal. "Miss Lindholm. As a steward of her Majesty's Order of the Bath, I would like to extend to you an invitation to join our exalted ranks. After a probation period, you shall receive the Multifoliate Red-White Star of our founder, Henry Tudor, and don the Crimson Mantle of one who purifies and protects. Do you accept?"
The Order of the Bath!
One of the five Ancient Ordos!
Though Lorenzo had mentioned that following her actions, one such offer was coming; she remained speechless while her treatment ran its course. Once Sen-sen unwrapped itself from the Lord Seneschal's arm, she again drew breath. A minute later, she had worked up enough courage to meet his eyes.
"I am honoured, Milord— but if you wish an immediate answer…"
She didn't know if this was a decision she could make herself. To join an Ordo was a life-long affair. The vows one made were binding, as Mathias had demonstrated, and would place inconvenient limitations on her life in exchange for unfettered access to knowledge and resources. With her common birth and many complications, how could she join such an exalted existence?
"I am aware of your predicaments, Miss Lindholm. Know that we have been watching you." The Seneschal flexed the fingers of his restored arm. Satisfied, he continued. "Well done. Do not fret that you are involved with the Void Sorceress, or that you are a vessel to the Mythic of Huangshan— far from it; such connections serve to fortify your candidacy. Your affairs on the Isle of Man as well have proven that you possess the right temperament to enter the ranks of higher service. A candidates' natural inclinations we value above all else. You want to right wrongs, do you not? Give a voice to the unheard? In the future, as a Knight Companion, you will be given the authority and power to act on the Commonwealth's behalf."
When the word "future" announced itself from the Seneschal's lips, Elvia couldn't help but feel a tingle in her Astral Soul. The Yinglong's vision once again rose to the fore, and she could see Percy's twisted face gloating over her pale and life-drained carcass while behind the pair, Tianjin burned and the Undead crashed over the waterlogged barricades.
"Sir Ashburn," she spoke suddenly, surprising the Seneschal. "Do Knight Companions receive combat training against Necromancy and the Undead?"
The Knight nodded. "The best the Mageocracy has to offer. Since the Great War, the freeing of populations from the apostasy of Undeath has been one of our chief missions. Therefore, both through sorcery and Faith, our members are well protected from their ilk. Do you possess grievance against the Undead?"
The Seneschal's words rang her heart like a tolling bell. Was this fated? Elvia wondered. Had the Yinglong predicted this as well? Was joining the Ordo a part of what she must do to gain the power necessary to thwart Percy, the Kirin creature, and to stop the Cult of Juche?
"Not personally, no." Elvia shook her head. "I will take your words into consideration, Lord Ashburn."
Without hesitation, the man stood. "We will be waiting, Elvia. I do believe you will find a warm welcome at the fortress-monastery."
Elvia touched a hand to the coin of the Tri-Crown Sun. "Sir, you forgot—"
"Its a gift, novitiate. The Sun-token is a minor Relic, one that will aid you in recognising your potential whether you joined us or not."
The curtains to the consultation section of the clinic pulled back. To Elvia's surprise, the line was now empty.
"I had the men see to your patients, so that we may talk without delaying their care." The Seneschal's secret smile was all-knowing and hopeful. "A sizeable donation has also been made to your Foundation and Clinic, Miss Lindholm. Whatever you choose, good deeds shall not go unrewarded."
"Thank you, Seneschal."
"One more thing." The Knight dipped his chin. "Though our Ordo is not given to careless charity— its members are given the discretion to offer aid by drawing on our coffers."
Elvia's breath grew heavy.
"I see you understand. May the Shepard guide you to our flock."
Elvia's eyes followed the man's aristocratic silhouette as he joined his guards. The other Knights were crimson-robed, and each gave her a parting nod before exiting the converted warehouse. When the trio faded into the docks, Elvia saw that a figure remained undisplaced, one bearing an impatient, agonised mien. It was the Calamity herself, the mistress of the Isle, Gwen Song, here to see her long-neglected lover.
Gwen very much disliked the idea that she could not just waltz into a clinic she had paid for to accost Elvia— until Petra pointed out that the two men very politely barring their way wore the Crimson Mantles with golden sun icons.
The Order of the Bath! Gwen gulped, recalling Le Guevel's lessons and recollecting what Lady Grey had foretold a month ago. Finally, the monks came to elevate Evee into their aristocratic ranks. It was a prospect that should have filled her with pride, but now it only made her suffer, for Elvia' ascension would only mean greater reluctance to forgo the Yinglong's blessing.
Beside her, Petra grew anxious; her cousin was a girl with Dwarves to entertain. Just as well, she would prefer Petra not striking Elvia with a Mindblank.
"Pats, I don't want to take up any more of your time, do you want to go see what Danmurim is doing? He might not be too happy if you don't show up at all during his morning shift."
"Are you sure?" Petra touched her arm protectively. "What if another Calm Emotion quails you?"
"I'll tell her to fuck off," Gwen promised. "I need to do this, Pats— I owe it to Evee and to Yue to resolve this thing, one way or another. This unforeseen problem is taking up far too much of my headspace."
It took some more cajoling to convince her cousin, but at last, Gwen was free to make her case with Elvia.
For another quarter of an hour, she stood outside the clinic while inside, one of the Knights from the Order of the Bath liberally dispensed potions. As the happy residents retreated, they saw the mistress of Millwall milling impatiently, and so approached Gwen to offer their thanks and their love. Gwen obliged, and when finally the NoMs were gone, she persisted until a middle-aged man with steel-grey hair and an imposing aura of presence emerged from the clinic.
Gwen raised a hand to hail the Knights and their leader, though the trio merely passed her with a nod, leaving her hanging.
When her gaze awkwardly returned to the clinic, she saw Elvia standing pretty in her physician's garb. Her chest constricted. The purity of her Evee had not at all been sullied by the horror conducted to the Manx. If anything, she appeared more resilient, mature, and imposing.
"Hey there, Evee." Gwen thought she would initiate.
"Did you miss me? How was the Isle of Man?"
"It was the worst."
Fuck. She mentally slapped herself, then pushed on. "Evee, I think we—"
"I know—" Elvia gave her a simpering smile.
Gwen breathed in, fighting the tingling in her fingers.
"I know, Gwennie." Elvia directed her to the elevated hospice cot and its taut, uncompromising linen. "I know. Come sit. Let's talk."