A/N: Well, here we go. This is the rewrite of ANGELS AND WITCHES, and I'm kind of pleased with it so far, actually. (beams) I hope you like it!

A couple of things before we begin…

First, this story is as a whole dedicated to Sofi, aka theatreoftheabsurd- thanks for everything, chica. Much love, and a number of hugs. See, no need to abuse me with pillows, either! (grins)

Second… she's also the one who gave me the idea of using a quick song lyric or quote at the beginning of each chapter. (shrug) so if you were going "Oi, she stole that from…"- then yes, I did. (laughs)

Anyway, here we go. Enjoy, please review.

Much love



Chapter One

Why Politics Is Complicated

-there's so many different worlds, so many different suns… and we have just one world- but we live in different ones…-


The day that this- at least, from my perspective- really began was three years before most of these events. That was when my life as it exists now began, and that was when everything else ended.

At sixteen, I was notorious. Not in the way that most adolescent boys are in their villages, for shouting in the roads late at night, for tormenting pensioners who were walking past- for stealing apples. Not in the way that town boys are notorious even, for being threatening and shouting comments at passers by, even for spraying obscenities under viaducts in the middle of a damp autumn evening when the mist hangs around your feet and smells of rain and damp brick.

I was one of the ones who you rarely see. Or at least, one of the ones whose faces you rarely see… generally my knife was there first, at the throat- and the hood I perpetually wore tended to cover what little expression there was on my face. You'll notice that I rarely wear hoods now. It's easy for me to say that when Mum died, I went off the rails, searching for a way to get round the fact that my dad didn't want me there, hated the eyes that stared out of my face like they'd smiled out of hers. They suited her better, too- Mum had tanned skin that shouted her Greek heritage to the world. Me- in me, jade green eyes looked at the world from a pale frame. I didn't even manage to look dangerous. I looked more starved and anaemic than dangerous. Maybe it's true that that is why I began to steal and fight… but maybe, just maybe, I was bored and unprincipled. I don't know. Make your own decision about that.

We were a clever gang, if a small one, and it didn't take me long to rise to the top of its loose but rigidly fought for hierarchy. This was before magick really caught the attention of the general populace again, before the big fight between the two governing bodies really kicked off, and there were a lot of opportunities for people who could open locks just by looking at them. I was the only mage in the group, too, and it bought me a hell of a lot of status and more than a little power through sheer fear and ignorance.

On the day in question, I was walking down a back alley. Not a surprise in itself, as there were a large number of back alleys in the small town where I lived, but what was surprising was that it was empty. That wasn't right.

Where were Jake and Semy? I frowned slightly as I stalked along the narrow passage, flicking one fingernail against the knuckles of my other hand. Semy was beginning to challenge my authority again, and I didn't like that. I couldn't deny that she was bright, and fast, and particularly good at what we did…but that didn't mean that I wanted her to take my role. I was leader here, not her.

If she challenged me, I would still win. I knew that. But for how long? That was the question that nagged at my mind. It had been niggling me for weeks, but things were beginning to come to a head. I was going to have to find a way to deal with her permanently. Either, I thought seriously, I would have to kill her or seduce her. Either way, she would lose the chance to take the leadership. Considered dispassionately, the second idea seemed most practical. Death left a body to deal with.

I wasn't ready to admit to myself that so far, I hadn't killed anyone and that I was scared of the idea. Even then, I had a couple of principles dancing away at the back of my mind and begging for a chance to play.

"Are you sure it was coming from down here?"

I tensed. That voice, emanating from the entrance of the alley just around the corner, wasn't a familiar one. I really didn't want ordinary people barging in on this meeting. Stepping back into the shadow of a convenient back doorway out of some business on one side, I totted up what information I had. Must be two of them, for the first to ask a question. The voice sounded male and- I judged with my usual perspicacity- mid twenties. Not old, but more mature than me by several years.

"Certain. Just because you can't sense magickal aura-"

"Sounds like an empathy talent to me. Care to polish your halo?"

There was a hissing reply, as if the woman- the second voice was female- had sucked in her breath sharply.

"Don't insult me. Remember who your leader is, child."

Accented, I thought. Spanish, possibly. Jake was half Spanish, and he had a similar intonation. The voices were coming nearer. I didn't intend to get away anyway, but I did want to be in a position where I saw them first. I moved in the doorway until I could see down the alley in the waning light, a cold wind blowing uncomfortably around my ankles. This place wasn't exactly well positioned, and the breeze swept straight down it. At least the rustles of gently shifting leaves covered my movements, I thought grimly.

And then a hand grabbed the back of my collar. I yelped, something that shames me to think of now. As I scrabbled for one of the knives that I kept in generally ready to hand places, the male voice- I still couldn't see anyone- muttered a short command. My arms and legs froze, deeply uncomfortably, and I was caught. I could have kicked myself for not using magick immediately, but I had always felt uncomfortable about that.

The hand on my collar loosened a fraction, and a woman appeared in my line of sight. She was dressed for a meeting, in a neutral grey suit and a white shirt that made it clear she held a position of power. I was right about the accent, I realised as I eyed her olive skin and dark hair. Her eyes, surprisingly, were a bright clear hazel, set on either side of a particularly strong nose.

"Hello, kid," she said slowly, as if the slang was unfamiliar to her. "What's your name?"

I swore at her, then choked as my collar was suddenly pulled tightly against my jugular. That hurt.

"Thorn," I gasped irritably. "What the-"

"You've got a strong magickal aura," she told me, ignoring my half question. "You'll be joining us whether you like it or not, so you might as well come without a struggle. Ever heard of the Authority?"

And that was my introduction to the Authority. I knew the name, of course; they led us. Or rather, they governed those of us with magickal ability- apart from the Empaths, who were ruled over by the Council of the Divine. That's where all the problems began, of course. But the Authority were who I was concerned with- partly because they were the ones who would sentence me if I was caught for a crime- and partly because they were the people currently holding me in an alley. The woman was the leader of the authority back then, Aspen, and she took me in- without much consent on my part, but without much argument either. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to my Dad, not that that worried me unduly. There hadn't been much affection between us in the first place, and my resemblance to Mum made my presence even more unwelcome round the house after she died.

The young man who had been clutching my neck was the next leader, Ciaran. A year after I reluctantly joined the Authority, he fought Aspen and won. She died, and he took over- taking the scruffy then-seventeen year old who he'd been teaching to work as his second. Ciaran wasn't stupid, and he saw that I had some potential even back then. Potential for what, I don't really know- but I do know that I have a small ability for getting on with people. Maybe that was what he needed, because his other second certainly didn't own it. Rheon. Rheon Silvera.

"Who's the kid, Ciaran?"

I stared at the lanky, long haired young man in front of me, eyeing his dirty jeans and unwashed hair with a slight level of disgust. I noted with interest that Ciaran was looking at him with only a negligibly tolerant gaze.

"Put the cigarette out, Rheon. You know it's not allowed in here anyway."

Rheon sneered at him when Ciaran turned away, then stubbed the burning ash-stick out a little more violently than was necessary. I noted the unusual name and stored it away for further reference. I didn't like the look of this greasy young man. There's something about unwashed hair that always makes me cringe.

"Who's the kid?" he repeated. Ciaran glanced at me disinterestedly. He was shorter than Rheon, stockier and with a certain level of respectability that made the couple of years difference in their ages seem more like decades. I got the impression that he wasn't entirely sure of Rheon. Wasn't scared enough of him to be friendly, but not sure enough to be rude, either…

"Some stray that Aspen wants educating," he told Rheon indifferently. Rheon shrugged, then shoved his way past me. When he'd gone, I glared at Ciaran, resenting the suggestion that I wasn't exactly bright- although I stayed silent. The older boy smiled lopsidedly as he looked down at me.

"Watch and learn, Thorn. Watch and learn. We won't mention how strong your magickal aura is to Rheon- he can't see them, same as me, and it's probably better if he doesn't think you're a threat. He can cause trouble."

I sniffed. Ciaran shook his head at me.

"This game's all about keeping secrets," he told me seriously, turning to look at me fully. "Keep things close to your chest, Thorn- or someone will use them against you. You're mixed up in politics now, kid, and it's a messy place to be."

He was right about that.

Skip another two years, and the world hadn't changed much. The human government had backed away from the huge ructions caused by the Divine and the Authority, attempting to ignore magick's existence at all. The magickally gifted lived in among the humans, but were ruled by different laws. This was only the setup in Britain, of course, but that was bad enough. Though there were some common laws- murder being a criminal act, for instance- things were still difficult, because no one knew where jurisdiction lay. Both the Authority and the Divine wanted control of all the magickally Gifted people…and neither wanted to give up anything to the other side.

I was caught up in a tangle of political parties who all wanted their own group to be in power, none of whom looked like getting their wishes or giving in.

I woke early, my sleep broken by the sudden gust of wind blowing through my open window. I swore. When I went to bed the night before, the erratic heating system of the Authority headquarters had made my room something like a sauna. Now, in the cold of a frosty English morning, I was lying in an icebox. My bed felt like someone had poured freezing water over all my sheets. Crawling out from under the quilt, I dashed across and slammed the window shut. Now, I was absolutely awake and absolutely freezing. The T-shirt and shorts that I wore in bed were nowhere near enough to keep me warm.

"Bloody English weather," I said outloud, hearing the words echo in the empty ceiling space, then sighed. I had a new room- a pleasant change in some ways from the cupboard I had been sleeping in up till now. It was nice enough, I thought…but it was still half empty. I just didn't have enough possessions.

Glancing around, I shivered and ducked into my bathroom to wash and change. The addition of jeans, a long sleeved T-shirt and socks made me feel warmer, and when I came back into my room I was humming softly under my breath, still scrubbing absently at my wet hair with a towel.

"Good morning, Thorn."

I froze.

Turning round, I looked grimly at the woman reclining in the comfortable chair that stood by my window. Red hair was scraped into a bun behind her head, and her blue eyes glittered as she looked at me. Cacia always reminded me of a porcelain doll, perfectly presented but cold to the core…

"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude not to knock?" I asked coldly, absently folding the towel I had been using. Cacia shrugged, stretching long legs out and crossing her ankles over as she looked at me. She was smiling in her usual way, almost as if the expression had been painted onto her face.

"I didn't listen, if they did. Anyway, rudeness is subjective."

I glared at her and ducked into my bathroom, hanging the towel up carefully before walking back into my room.

"Don't scowl," she chided. I rolled my eyes.

But I look so cute when I scowl, I thought sarcastically, but I didn't say it.

"What did you want, anyway?" I managed, instead.

Cacia was walking around my room, eyeing my possessions with her head slightly tilted to one side. I had to admit, as I watched her narrowly, that she did know how to present herself. The dark suit she was wearing was cut beautifully, fitting crisply around her thin figure. The cream, high necked jumper underneath was well chosen by her, too. I didn't like her perfect appearance though- it was too careful, too precise. I grinned mentally as I thought about the difference between my best friend, Kingfisher, and Cacia; Kingfisher was known for theblue fluffyslippersshe wore because they were the most comfortable that she had found, and her black curly hair was always tangled around her face.

"It's not exactly personal in here, is it?" Cacia commented, running her fingers absently across the polished wood of the windowsill and turning back to face me. "Don't you want some possessions?"

"Stops a quick exit," I told her bluntly. "Having possessions keeps you tied in one place."

"Planning on leaving us?" She smiled a little wider. "What a shame." The insincerity in that light voice clanged like a wrong note in a previously perfect orchestra.

"I wish I could," I said shortly, smiling back and showing just a little more of my teeth than was necessary. "But unfortunately that would mean admitting defeat to you and your lunatic of a boyfriend, so…looks like I'll be sticking around. Sorry, what did you say you wanted?"

Cacia glared at me, irritated by my comments as I had known she would be. She always got touchy if I slighted Rheon in any way. She was absurdly protective of his reputation, and as yet I hadn't entirely worked out why. I thought that perhaps she was in love with him, but had decided against that theory. Cacia never loved any body but herself.

"I was about to ask you to report to Ciaran as soon as you were up," she snapped. The light, sophisticated tone had disappeared and there was unmistakable anger in her voice and face as she spoke. "He wants you."

"Thank you," I told her cheerfully. My mood had been vastly improved by annoying her. "Was there anything else?"

"No. As soon as you're up," she told me shortly and stalked out. I waited for her to slam the door, but she closed it with exaggerated care instead. I shook my head soberly after her, my mood once again dampened as I thought about Rheon and Cacia.

Rheon. Gods, I hated him. And that's unlike me, if you take my meaning; I've always thought that most people are generally okay when you get past the pettiness that seems to be an unfortunate symptom of modern life. But Rheon was past insane. Cacia was admittedly worse, with a pathologically sadistic streak that made you fear her before you even spoke to her. Human instinct, that feeling when the hairs rise on the back of your neck and you want to back away rapidly from something or someone…that is a valuable thing. Cacia set all my alarm bells ringing. If I'd been a cat, my claws would have automatically appeared as soon as she entered a room. She was more intelligent than Rheon and, ironically, less senior, but Rheon was my opposite number. He had already been in place when I turned up, a grubby little urchin off the streets with skinned knees and a permanently dirty face, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt that was too big for me and jeans that would probably have taken two people my size. He hadn't been impressed to suddenly have a competitor.

It's no wonder that I've always dreamed about being free of the Authority, I thought bitterly. I had been bullied by Ciaran, bullied by Rheon, bullied by Rheon's supporters… in fact, I had been bullied by everyone until Ciaran made me one of his two official seconds. That was when everyone realised that Ciaran wouldn't stand for anyone but him bullying me- except for Rheon, who was immensely talented at inflicting pain without being caught.

Rheon had been the one who broke my arm when I was seventeen. Rheon and a friend of his had given me three severe nosebleeds in a day- a game that only stopped when I fainted from blood loss and they stood the risk of being found out. It had been Rheon who had knocked one of my back teeth out, who tried to burn my back with cigarettes just where it wouldn't show.

Needless to say, we weren't particularly fond of each other. Many times I had wondered why Ciaran had chosen Rheon, who he didn't even like particularly, as his other second- and then I remembered that Rheon had a lot of support among the more extreme members of our organisation. Rheon's appointment had been rather more popular than mine- a fact I reminded myself of every time I felt my ego was expanding.

Shaking my head, I collected my keys and mobile from the table by my door, and left quickly. What did Ciaran want? It was still relatively early in the morning, and my boss was known to be a late sleeper.

I walked briskly down the winding corridors and up one of the narrow sets of stairs that riddled the Authority building. Known to everybody as Headquarters, it was a huge, rambling Tudor building that I thought was beautiful, if a fire hazard. Unfortunately, its completely irregular layout made it difficult and time consuming to get from my room on the third floor to Ciaran's large office on the first, on the opposite side of the building.

When I got there, I was slightly out of breath as I walked briskly along the hall, sunlight streaming into my face as it poured through the large floor-to-ceiling windows. When I reached Ciaran's door, I tapped lightly on it, and waited.

"Thorn? Come in."

I wasn't surprised at Ciaran knowing that it was me, and pushed the door open carefully. When I entered, I was surprised to see someone in the room with my leader.

"Good morning," I said politely. "Cacia said that you wanted to see me."

Ciaran shot me a look of approval, and I gritted my teeth. I hated playing the subservient second, who quietly did as he was told…but it caused me less trouble in the long run. Rheon, I knew, caused Ciaran far more trouble than I did- and he was an Authority member born.

"Cassiel, I'd like you to meet my second, Thorn Castleford." I smiled politely and turned to the person who had just stood up to shake hands with me. He was younger than I had first thought, probably very close to my own age and certainly no older. Blonde, slightly too-long hair was falling into his eyes- which were a strange amber hazel colour, pinwheeling dark spokes breaking the colour. Dressed in a high necked black jumper and dark jeans, he was unobtrusive. As I eyed him, wondering what he was doing here, I realised that he was assessing me just as intensely.

"Thorn, this is Cassiel Hathaway. He's come from the Council of the Divine to talk about arranging peace negotiations."

I had had a lot of practise at keeping a straight face and not showing any of my surprise, but I think that even I showed a small twitch at that point.

"That's- unexpected," I said calmly, carefully sitting down and folding my arms as I looked at the boy taking his seat opposite me. "As far as we knew, your people were still refusing any form of contact."

The boy- Cassiel- rubbed a hand through his hair.

"They- we- have a new leader," he said quietly. His voice was naturally quiet, slightly accented and soft. "Oriel. She wants to try and negotiate some sort of peace- and so she sent me. I have the papers, as I showed you."

Ciaran was nodding thoughtfully. "I would have done the same," he said, propping his chin on his hand. "It makes sense. Before I decide whether I think we should get involved with peace negotiations, I need to consult with my senior members."

"I thought you would say that," Cassiel said composedly. "It's only sensible- I mean, you weren't on the best of terms with Azrael- our old leader. If you don't mind, I'll go and find a hotel while you're discussing the matter."

"No need," Ciaran said cheerfully. I was impressed with how civil he was being to this Empath- he could generally be pretty bigoted. I wondered if he knew something that I didn't. Leaning over, he pressed a button on his speakerphone.

"Kingfisher," he said clearly, "We're having a guest for a few evenings. Could you arrange a bedroom, please? Somewhere not too far from Thorn's."

Damn, I thought fervently. That meant that Ciaran intended me to look after the Angel. That probably also meant that he intended to discuss Cassiel's peace proposals with Rheon. I wasn't surprised, though- Rheon's ideas fitted more with those of most of the Authority than my own. I tended to see the views of the outside world better. At the same time, I had a lot to do and didn't fancy playing nursemaid to an Angel.

"Of course!" Kingfisher's voice rang happily across the speaker, almost echoing around the room. "Is the guest someone exciting?"

I laughed and leant over to speak into the microphone.

"Just a friend of mine, King. I'll introduce you in a minute."

Ciaran laughed then clicked the speakerphone off. I hadn't seen him look so cheerful and informal in months. I was quite glad that Cassiel had come, if he had this much of an effect on my leader.

"All right," he said seriously, looking from me to the Angel. "I don't think it's wise to publicise your presence, Cassiel. Seeing as Thorn has decided that you're some friend of his, I think it's probably best to stick to that story."

"Cassiel is a very angelic name," I said doubtfully, and caught a grin flashing across the face of the boy sitting next to me.

"True," he said gravely, still grinning. "My friends call me Cass- would that be better?"

As we left Ciaran's office, Cass- as I was now calling him- laughed suddenly, looking around him. I frowned, glancing curiously sideways at him.

"What's so funny?"

We began to walk along the corridor towards Kingfisher's office. Cass smiled lopsidedly, running a hand absently along the wall. I felt oddly surprised at how interesting I found him.

"I was just thinking how different Oriel is to your leader," he told me. "She's very informal, likes everything to be comfortable and easy. The Council aren't keen on her and the way she does things- they're very old fashioned- but Oriel beat the other claimant, so they can't argue. She's got a passion for the modern and up to date in this world- and unthinking discrimination doesn't fit that description, not for her."

"Ciaran swings between extremes," I told him easily. The sun was beating on my face, and I felt in a good mood even though the frost still lay thickly on the gardens outside.

Cass laughed, then glanced around consideringly at the corridor. It had a low ceiling, crossed with beams of age-blackened, seasoned timber that also supported the white-washed walls.

"This place is nice," he told me appreciatively. "A pleasant change from our Headquarters, anyway."

"Oriel's passion for the modern?" I guessed. Cass shuddered.

"Yes. Much as I like her firm line with the Council, I wish she hadn't had influence over building work before she got the leadership! Most of it's glass and the heating isn't up to much. It's freezing in the winter and baking hot in the summer."

"Sounds delightful," I told him dryly. "Just lovely. No wonder you didn't mind coming here much."

Cass smiled tightly. Somehow I got the impression that I'd said the wrong thing. It was almost as if walls had suddenly shot up behind his golden brown gaze.

"Intensive attention to duty, that's me," he said shortly. "So, who is it we're going to meet?"

I shrugged with one shoulder, secretly glad that the conversation had changed subject. I didn't want to make him feel uncomfortable, and there was clearly something about his visit here that he didn't want to tell me.

"My best friend here, Kingfisher. She's Ciaran's most efficient secretary, though he and Rheon just think she's too dizzy-headed to string a sentence together."

Cass grinned. "So I'm your friend, am I? How did we meet and who am I?"

"You'd better stay Cass Hathaway," I told him thoughtfully. "At least you can sign that, and you won't forget what your name is. We could say that we met… oh, I don't know- that you were a family friend and we lost touch when I joined the Authority, if you like."

Cass nodded. "Sounds sensible. Anything I should know about your family?" I stared at the floor, knowing I should tell him the truth and not wanting to. I didn't want to discuss this, not again. I knew, just knew that he would say, 'Oh…I'm so sorry' and then there would be an awkward silence while he tried to figure out how to continue the conversation.

"My mum died when I was twelve," I told him shortly. "My dad and I- haven't spoken since I left home for here at sixteen. That's it- no brothers or sisters."

"Okay," Cass said tranquilly. "I guess you don't discuss it much then, so I shouldn't have to worry about that." I glanced at him, surprised and feeling a little guilty for jumping to conclusions.

"Kingfisher knows no more than that," I told him more easily. I felt relaxed again. "She's unlikely to ask you anything challenging."

We reached the door of Kingfisher's office and I paused, looking at Cass. I had to squint a little against the bright light shining through the window behind him.

"Don't let King's chattiness make you think that she's stupid," I advised. "I made that mistake for a year- and she doesn't appreciate it."

"Are you two…?" Cass began. It was the first time that he had looked his young age as he looked at me, head tilted slightly on one side. I grinned crookedly. Everyone always asked that question.

"No," I replied bluntly. "Nothing of the kind, ever. We don't suit at all- suggest it to Kingfisher and she'll laugh herself silly. By the way- how old are you?"

"Eighteen," Cass told me, frowning a little. "Why?"

"Just curious," I explained- or half explained. "There aren't many people as young as us in the top jobs at the Authority. Apart from me- and I guess Kingfisher, though she's not particularly senior- everyone is in their twenties or older."

"Aren't you?"

Cass looked faintly surprised. I smiled lopsidedly at him, shaking my head.

I grew up fast. I had to grow up fast.

"The worldly wisdom is just a front."

"Funny," Cass retorted sarcastically. "But seriously, I thought you were older."

"Nineteen," I told him truthfully. "But only by a couple of weeks. If it helps, I was forced to act a bit more than my age, just to keep up with Rheon."

"And you're in a senior position?" Cass raised his eyebrows. I noticed that he had an extremely expressive face, his eyes showing both his surprise and something else…something more like wariness. "I'm impressed."

I felt more than a little confused. If he was here, then surely…or was he just being pointedly modest? It didn't seem likely somehow, not from this quiet, sarcastic young man.

"No different from you," I hazarded. Cass snorted, those communicative eyebrows flashing back down into a frown.

"I have no position within the Divine, as such," he told me tersely. "For one reason or another, I'm not too popular. Even Oriel is a little wary of me."

"Then-" I began, very confused now. Why would the Divine send someone minor? Even more vitally, why would they send someone that they felt almost scared of? I could understand that Cass might, like me, be prone to insubordination…but they wouldn't be scared of that, surely? If he was like me, then he was very good at acting the perfect politician- in company.

"Why was I sent?" he interrupted, interpreting my look correctly and grinning. "Uh…let's just say that I have other qualities. Blame my progressive leader. I think she thought it might be good for me."

I laughed, though I was curious. Did Ciaran know why he was sent? Shaking my head, I knocked on the door. A familiar gnawing of puzzlement and interest was growing in my stomach, and I didn't need more intrigue. Not just now.

"Come in!"

I held the door open for Cass, then stepped through and shut it behind me. Kingfisher's office was a small, though well-lit room, filled with her personal belongings. Posters adorned what wall space there was, and the desk was covered in gadgets, pens and things that clearly amused her. When we came in, she was seated on the miniscule window seat, her laptop balanced on her crossed legs as she typed.

"Thorn!" My friend went to stand up, nearly dropped the laptop and put it down before finally managing to get to her feet. I grinned at her. Kingfisher was a short girl, barely level with my shoulder. Her dark hair waved around her face, pushed back behind a red band that kept it out of her eyes, which were as black as her hair.

"Beautifully graceful," I told her approvingly, then stepped backwards as she aimed a punch at my arm.

"I've arranged the room for you- opposite you and next to mine," she told me rapidly. There was no sign of irritation in her voice, as if she'd completely forgotten that I'd just insulted her. She always did that, just switched from topic to topic without a thought for her poor confused listeners. She wasn't stupid, or even all that airheaded- she just thought in huge, unstructured bounds that leapt from point to point along no conventional, logical connection. "I couldn't believe it when you said a friend of yours was coming to stay- you never talk about your past, so actual people turning up is just bizarre. What does a friend of yours need to see Ciaran for? Is he poking his nose into your business again? And he's gone and shut himself up with Rheon now."

King paused, making a screwed-up face, and I laughed. I loved the way she just talked, letting all her thoughts out like that. I couldn't do it at all- keeping my emotions hidden away had proved to be habit forming.

"Cass," I said, turning to the boy who was looking faintly alarmed behind me, "My best friend Kingfisher. King, this is Cass Hathaway."

"Hi," my short friend said, beaming. "Sorry about that, I tend to just rattle on. What do I call you?"

"Uh- Thorn just told you. My name's Cass," Cass told her, looking bemused. I laughed.

"Some of the older mages here prefer to be called by their surnames," I explained. Cass looked enlightened.

"Oh," he said, shaking King's hand. "No, just Cass. Tell me, do you ever breathe between sentences?"

King grinned at him. I realised how much charm Cass had, as I watched my little friend respond to his friendliness.

"Now and again," she told him cheerfully. "Thorn will tell you that I only draw breath when I'm eating or asleep, but he's prone to overstatement."

"Thanks," I told her dryly, then sat down in her desk chair. "Pull up a seat, Cass. There's probably one under that pile of papers."

Kingfisher cleared the papers off, and sure enough there was a chair underneath. She waved Cass to it, then sat down on the window seat again.

"By the way," my friend told me thoughtfully. "I thought you might like to see this." She dug in a pile, then handed me a couple of sheets of paper. I read through them quickly, a sudden and heavy knot thudding into the pit of my stomach. This wasn't good.

According to the report that Kingfisher had handed me, one of the more violent anti-Authority groups that regularly attacked Authority buildings had created a disturbance outside one of the minor London branches. Nothing much had happened, but someone had been injured.

"Who?" I asked King tersely. She knew exactly what I meant, and understood not to go into verbal details in front of Cass.

"Finn," she told me tiredly. I suddenly noticed the heavy shadows under her eyes, and felt worried. Kingfisher had been a member of the Authority from a very young age- her parents had been prominent members- and Finn had been a friend since she was small.

I swore softly. Cass looked faintly shocked, but I ignored him. I had more important things than him to deal with. King looked faintly miserable.

"He's- he's all right," she told me. "But Gest says that he doesn't know how long it'll be before he gets fully better."

"Damn," I said softly, then reached out and hugged her around the shoulders before turning to look at Cass. "I'm going to abandon you to Kingfisher's tender care," I told him, attempting to look cheerful. "I've just got to go and make a couple of phone calls. Don't worry, she doesn't bite. She might talk you to death, but I'm sure you'll cope."

Cass grinned, and I smiled at Kingfisher. "I'll make sure things are all right," I promised her. "Look after Cass for me, take him and show him his room and so on. Please?" She nodded, frowning at the look on my face.

"What are you-"

"Just- don't worry," I said firmly. "Everything will be all right."

Leaving Kingfisher's office, I stalked back along the corridors to my room in a high temper. People spoke to me as I walked, but I barely responded; I'd rather be thought rude than actually shout at people who probably didn't deserve it. Thankfully I saw no sign of Rheon, Cacia or Ciaran.

When I reached my own room, I slammed and locked the door, before shoving a chair under the doorhandle so no one could possibly get in. Then, sitting down on my bed, I pulled out my mobile and dialled a well known number.

Impatiently, I waited for it to ring. It began, then abruptly cut out, as if someone had cancelled the call at the other end. Swearing again, I dialled again and waited. It cancelled again, and I retried another four times before it was finally picked up.

"What, Thorn?"

The speaker sounded unusually grim and tense.

"Where the hell have you been?" I snarled into the receiver. "One of my friends is hurt and I had no warning that anything was about to happen!"

"We have broken our contact with you," the voice continued coldly. "After recent Authority actions, we see no reason that we should continue to aid you."

"What?" I asked, not really believing that I was hearing this. They had been so committed to helping me! What had happened to cause this sudden change. I hadn't heard from them in a month but that was unsurprising- it generally just meant that nothing had been happened.

"Thorn, remember a certain Witch who tried to escape the pressure of the Authority? And the attack on her family? Well, it's our cousin lying in a hospital bed, our aunt and step-uncle who spend every night by her side. Our other cousin who is collapsing under the weight of her totally unnecessary guilt. Why should we try to help you any more?"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" I snapped. "All I know is that you've stopped helping me- I don't know about any attacks on any Witches! As far as I knew, we were just keeping tabs on what they were doing!"

"Check again, Thorn," the young man at the other end of the phone shot back. "You're Ciaran's second. You can't expect us to believe that you don't have a clue what's happened."

And with that, he cut me off. I stared at the mute receiver in my hand, then swore angrily. Now I was left with yet another problem to deal with. How could my useful informants be related to one of the Witches? And which one?

What have Rheon and Cacia been doing behind my back?

Sighing, I shook my head and rang Gest, the Healer who looked after most of our casualties. There are some wounds that even a good human doctor can't heal, and Gest was stunningly good at dealing with magickal injuries.

"How's Finn?" I asked him without preamble. We were old acquaintances, even if we did find it hard to reconcile our views on Angels.

"As well as can be expected," he told me briefly, then sighed. "How's Kingfisher?"

"Worried," I told him, touched by his concern for my friend. "Frightened for Finn, of course. What actually happened? King didn't say, and I didn't want to upset her more by asking."

"Letter bomb and a small riot," Gest told me briefly. He sounded tired as he spoke, and I wondered how many other casualties he had dealt with already. It was only eleven o'clock, but he sounded like he'd been up all night.

"And Finn?"

"Got in the way of both. He's got a few broken bones, a few bruises and some nasty burns, if you need the detail. He's unconscious at the moment."

"Damn," I said softly after we had exchanged courtesies and hung up. Worry curled itself around my heart like a poisonous creeper, clutching and sucking my unusual contentment away again.

Who will watch the Watchers?

Sometime soon, I knew, I would have to decide once and for all where my loyalties lay. When Ciaran got weak enough for Rheon to challenge him, what would I do? In an Authority that was run by Rheon I would have to fight entirely against the Divine and the rebel mages, or leave the Authority entirely and find some other way to try and influence the way the magickal peoples were governed.

Walking over to where my laptop stood on my desk, turned off and silent, I switched it on and waited for it to upload, before calling up the files on the three Witches in the British Circle.

The magickal plain- the layer of magick that covered the world almost like a second skin- was divided up into Circles that often followed geographic divisions in the real physical world. The British Circle covered England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and some of the very outlying regions of Norway, the Netherlands and France. Within each Circle there were only three Witches at a time. Witches were neither Angels nor Mages, but something in between. Mages handled the magickal plain, and manipulating it so that they could do things like telekinesis, sparkly lights, use mirrors to communicate, control people's movements, things like that. Angels were concerned with the magick inherent in people- what you might call the power of the imagination. They were capable of manipulating that magick, so they could cause illusions, sense emotion- even, in some cases cause death or speak to people through their minds alone. It was a powerful talent and one that explained the fear that many Mages had of the Divine.

The Witches…were more complicated. The magickal plain was- is- separate to the rest of the world, almost like another world on top of this one. Witches didn't touch that, but had the power to control the magick that was already innate in the Natural world. It was the same substance as the magickal plain itself- but more potent, and sprang from the world itself rather than being something over it. The three Witches could control the elements, the weather, and had all of nature at their command- if, and only if, they were capable of harnessing their power. Some Witches had been known to commit suicide, lose their minds completely as they struggled to contain their massive potential.

Shaking my head at the thought of that much power, I flicked through the files quickly.

Yvonne Streatham, only six months old now and showing no signs of an overwhelming ability as yet. We only knew she would be a witch because it was possible to sense the power in them. I dismissed her at a glance. She couldn't have been the one that rebelled.

Adam Williams… I scrolled through his file with a slight frown. I had met him, and didn't like him. He liked power for power's sake. But he had said 'she'…

Liana Anselm. Eighteen years old, nineteen in a few months- impressive control of her talent- and known to dislike the Authority's attitude. It had to be her.

I looked at the picture, noting the wilful scowl with amusement. I wouldn't want to annoy this girl without a very good reason. It had to be her. There was something of Jon and Emory in the face, in the slight pointed quality of her chin and the slanted blue eyes.

So, Jon and Emory are part of the Anselm clan, are they?

I had a feeling that Jon, who had been the person on the other end of the phone, would be kicking himself for letting me know that. They had been careful- up until now- not to give me any kind of information about their families. Clearly I had lost, or rather my position in a treacherous Authority had lost me, the trust of my useful informants in some way.

Immediate Family: Mother, Una Anselm. Widowed. Step-father, Cameron Lake. One sister, Thais Anselm. All mages.

Now I was deeply worried. What had Rheon and, I suspected, Cacia, been doing to the best mage in our circle? The nagging anxiety that had now fixed itself with claws into my brain dug a little further in. Did Ciaran know about whatever it was? And what were they all plotting without telling me?

Shaking my head, I put the kettle on and made a cup of coffee. I needed something to settle my nerves. While I was waiting for the water to boil, I frowned at the other information in Liana Anselm's file.

Wilful, impatient, strongly anti-Authority. Also anti-Divine. May require persuasion in order to conform.

Strongly loyal to her family, irritable and unlikely to think before taking action. Magickal ability, however, strong and well controlled. In command of her powers, if not of her temper.

She looked it, too.

I was just taking my first gulp of strong, bitter liquid when there was a loud bang on my door.

"Come in," I said resignedly. I didn't know who it was, but the peremptory knock had convinced me that they were unlikely to give me any peace until they had been allowed in to talk to me.

"Come in!" I repeated irritably, when silence greeted my first acknowledgement. Rolling my eyes, I got up, stalked to the door and yanked it open.

Rheon was standing there, looking very pleased with himself. He was leaning against the wall opposite, arms folded. As I sighed and stepped back, he walked forward and through the door. I slammed it behind him. Predictably, he didn't take the hint.

"What is it?" I asked sharply. "What do you want?"

"Thorn, Thorn," he murmured patronisingly. "Be nice. I know it doesn't come naturally, but please try. We do have a reputation to keep up, you know. Is there any coffee left?"

I shook my head mutely, not wanting to speak unless I swore at him, and perched on the edge of my bed. I eyed him coldly, wondering- not for the first time- what it was that Cacia saw in him. I supposed love was blind, but…

To be fair, I thought reasonably, Rheon wasn't bad looking- if you liked that kind of thing. He had at least learnt the advantages of washing his hair. But the blank empty fanaticism in the depths of his chilly eyes sent shivers up and down my spine. He looked normal, until you mentioned Angels- and listened to him speak. He could be entirely charismatic, I knew that… but he was so very frightening.

"What do you want?" I repeated. Rheon shrugged elegantly, sitting down in my one armchair and eyeing me from between half closed lids. I had to admire his air of quiet menace. I had been trying to cultivate one myself, but failed so far. I could just about manage irritated.

"To talk to you about the Angel who's visiting," he told me bluntly.

Should have guessed.

I had, in fact, but that wasn't the point.

"What about him?" I asked coolly, taking a long drink of my coffee. I wished I had some whisky to add to it, just because it might take the edge off this interview. "He seems pretty normal and pleasant to me."

"Thorn, he's an Angel," Rheon snapped, looking at me like I was either insane or very stupid. Come to think of it, to him I was probably both.

"So?" I asked, making a face as I scalded my tongue. I wrinkled my nose.

"He shouldn't be here!"

Rheon sounded young, suddenly. I was cast back to thinking of him when we were younger, wearing his jeans slung so far down around his waist that the crotch was somewhere near his knees, and fought not to grin. I'd always found him hard to take seriously when he started being childish.

"Why not?" I asked calmly. "You never know, it might be that he's come to offer total surrender."

Rheon snorted. I smiled internally, thinking sadly what a shame it was that he was such a total, bigoted git. That would have been exactly my reaction on being told that the Angels were surrendering. Sometimes I thought that if things had been different, we'd have been really quite similar people.

If he hadn't been totally obsessed with destruction of an entire race and completely sadistic, you mean.

"All right, so that's unlikely," I conceded. "But shouldn't you at least listen to him?"


"Oh." I shut my mouth, faintly stunned at Rheon's uncompromising attitude. I wished for once that I could blame his totally single minded stance on stupidity, but I knew I couldn't. I could accuse my opposite of being many things…but not stupid.

"What do you want me to do?" I asked bluntly. "Ciaran's spoken to you, he hasn't spoken to me. What does he think?"

Rheon scowled, cracking his knuckles restlessly as he leant back in his chair.

"He wants to listen to what the Angel has to say. All that'll do is create support for the Divine, as they start to know one of them better."

"He does seem perfectly pleasant and normal," I ventured cautiously. "He's not some maniac off the streets, you know." Rheon tied his hair back, hands moving all the time as he fought to keep his agitation under control.

"That makes it worse! People will start sympathising with him, and then start wanting some sort of halfway agreement…"

"We're never going to agree on this, Rheon," I told him resignedly. I finished my coffee and went to rinse the mug out in the sink in my bathroom. I raised my voice so that he could still hear me in the other room. "Give it up. Times are moving, and I think that if the Angels are prepared to start talking, we should listen."

There was silence, though I'd been expecting an explosion. When I walked back into my bedroom, Rheon was sitting in front of my laptop, scrolling through the files on the Witches that I had brought up.

"Doing some research?" he asked me interestedly, turning round to grin up at me. "What did you want to know about the Witches for?"

I shrugged, deliberately keeping my face noncommittal and casual.

"Don't know… I don't know much about them, and I wondered what they were really like, that's all."

Rheon laughed shortly. He had had more to do with the Witches than me, reinforcing his opinion that he was superior to me in Ciaran's estimation.

"The baby, she's no trouble at the moment. Although if things get really bad, we might take her in so that she's under Authority protection. Adam…well, he's on our side. I like him, though I wouldn't trust him with anything. Certainly not with any women. Liana Anselm, on the other hand…is a troublemaker." He clicked on the photo of an angry young woman, her arms folded defensively across her chest as she stared at the camera. "She doesn't like us at all, and wants a completely united country. She would support any rebellion against us."

"It happens," I said briefly. Rheon grinned.

"It's unlikely to happen again."

I frowned, a nasty suspicion forming in my mind.

"What did you do?" I asked cautiously. "Why won't she rebel again?"

Rheon stood up, stretching theatrically. He knew I was interested and he was playing my interest for all that it was worth.


As he began to speak, I sat down slowly. Suddenly, I didn't have anything but numbness inside me. I couldn't even feel angry.