Chapter Four

Pleasing Everyone

- why do I have to know everything… and why does everything have to make sense? -


Lian wasn't the sort to go pale, so she didn't. No more did she gasp and faint untidily all over the place. Instead she just looked at me, and that was quite bad enough.

"What?" she said very softly. "You are who?"

"Lian," Emory said quickly, moving to stand next to her. He touched a hand to her arm, and Lian quickly moved it away.

"Don't," she told him quietly. "Emory, please. I think- I think I'm going to go outside for a minute."

She walked with a measured pace to the doors. We waited in silence, and after a second we heard the front door open and close. Jon folded his arms, looking at me calmly. Not that that was unusual- the idea of Jon losing his temper was unthinkable. I had been shocked enough by him being so angry with me on the phone. Emory, on the other hand…

"What on Earth are you doing here? We thought we told you not to contact us again, and anyway- how did you find out where we live? Oh god, Jon- if he knows where we live, he could tell the Authority and we'll be in really trouble, we'll have to tell Mum and Dad- we might have to move! What are we going to do? I should ring-"

"Emory, calm down," Jon said quietly.

We waited in silence, not looking at each other, until Emory ran out of words. It took time, but eventually he paused for breath. Jon took the opportunity.

"Right," he said calmly. "Sit down, Thorn, and explain yourself."

He had sounded so quiet, so practical, that up until the last two words I had begun to relax. But the tone of voice in which he ordered me to explain didn't just sound firm. Jon, I realised, was not merely the quiet, gentle teenage boy he had always appeared to be. He was in control, implacable as a glacier and constant as the turn of the Earth. If Jon decided I was in the wrong… there would be very little I could do to save myself. For the first time, I wondered if I might have put myself at risk by coming here. How much would Jon and Emory fight to protect their home and their family?

"All right," I murmured, trying hard to keep my voice steady. "I worked out who you were- or who you were related to- from what Jon said on the phone yesterday, as I think you guessed. I also found out what had been done to your cousin- only by insisting that Rheon told me what had been done to one of the Witches. He- he told me."

I paused, taking a breath. Emory opened his mouth to speak, but Jon shook his head sharply. "I was horrified," I said simply. "Whatever I think about some of my colleagues-"

Emory made a sound halfway between the name 'Rheon' and a cough. Jon stifled a laugh, and I smiled tiredly.

"I never imagined that they would stoop to that level. Involving family…" I shook my head, feeling again the initial shock of that revelation. "I mean, torturing a Witch would be against Mage Lore. Torturing family members is unthinkable."

"You weren't there," Jon said very softly. I looked up into his eyes, watching the blue mist with pain beyond anything I had ever suffered.

"Thais screaming," Emory muttered, staring down at the tabletop. "I still hear her sometimes in my head." He shivered, and for the first time in the months that I had known him, fell absolutely still and silent.

"I don't know what I can say," I said, shaking my head in frustration. "I came to see you because I had to tell you that I knew nothing about it. I didn't want to leave you believing that I could have been involved. I never wanted to see Liana or any other member of that branch of your family- I wouldn't dare intrude. It was a terrible coincidence, her being here."

"Why didn't you leave as soon as you knew who she was?" Emory asked me shortly. I sighed.

"I didn't know who she was until after I'd been in your house most of the day. When I got here, I was exhausted. Lian decided that I wasn't going anywhere until I'd had some sleep- and she's hard to refuse. It wasn't until about fifteen minutes before you arrived that she told me who she was. When she did, I was horrified. I gave her a false name, of course- but she saw through that lie. And that's when you arrived."

"Why did you come?" Jon asked the question quietly, resting his chin on his hands. Emory was wandering around the kitchen, side to side, behind me in front of me…

"To put things right as much as I could," I said simply. "To let you know that I hadn't betrayed you. To see if I could do anything to help."

"How about giving back the Gift that they took from my sister?"

We all turned around, almost farcical in our synchronisation, to find Lian standing in the doorway. Her eyes were hard as she looked at me.

"Well?" she challenged. "You're the second in command. If anyone can do it, you can."

"I can't," I told her gently, flattening my hands onto the smooth wood of the table. "I have no control over Cacia. She's most definitely under Rheon's jurisdiction."

"Why?" Lian challenged. "Why can't you tell her what to do, the same as Rheon?"

I bit back the urge to scream with frustration. Why did everyone think that I could work miracles, or just tell people what to do?

"Because," I said, almost through gritted teeth, "Because I don't have the authority to deal with business to do with the Witches. Certain things are shared between Rheon and I, certain things aren't. I deal with Humans, and the Divine when they actually come to Headquarters. Rheon deals with the Witches and various other things." Lian ignored this.

I just can't understand how you can be Ciaran's second in command and not have known about what happened to Thais," she persisted.

I wanted to scream. I was so sick of people telling me that I should have done this, or expecting me to do that. I was doing my best! I wanted to do the best for the Authority, I wanted to do my best for all the people who relied on me- but sometimes I couldn't do anything… and this was one of those cases. Maybe I should have already been watching how Rheon was dealing with the Witches- but if I had been, I wouldn't have been watching something else and someone else entirely would have been shouting at me.

"Rheon- as I'm sure you're aware- has always been in charge of Authority dealings with the Witches," I repeated, knowing I sounded like a stuck record and hating myself for it. "I've never got involved because I've never been-"

"You must have considered that Rheon was likely to do something drastic to persuade us to join the Authority side," Lian challenged. "I mean, everyone knows that whichever side the Witches choose would win- I've certainly been convinced of that, mainly by the insane measures the Authority have taken to make me."

"I hadn't considered that possibility, actually," I told her calmly, biting down the urge to shout at her. "I assumed that if Rheon considered doing something like that- or letting Cacia do it- he would be prevented by Ciaran. I can only assume that Ciaran permitted it for reasons of his own."

No, I didn't think of it. I didn't believe anyone would do that. I didn't believe anyone would try to actually hurt the Witches to get them on our side. I thought Ciaran would baulk before doing something so terrible. What was I supposed to do, anticipate his every move?

"I don't know," Lian said shortly. "Ciaran hasn't mentioned it. In fact, Ciaran himself hasn't spoken to me since just after he got the leadership. It's always been Rheon. And now he expects me to join your side."

"Not exactly sensible of Rheon," I commented. "How was attacking your family going to persuade you to join?"

Silence fell. Jon looked at Lian's face, then away. Lian sighed.

"It wasn't quite like that," she told me eventually. "I… ran for it. Your lot, and the Council of the Divine, have always monitored us Witches quite closely. Azrael always used to keep checks on me, and Rheon- for Ciaran, I suppose- did the same. When it looked as if that monitoring was beginning to turn into firm persuasion, my parents told me I should run for it."

Una Anselm and Cameron Lake, I remembered. Mother and step-father. Both powerful mages…

"And Rheon and Cacia- took steps to make you come back?" I surmised. Lian nodded, eyes suddenly filled with bright indigo anger.

"When- when I felt…" she broke off, swallowing hard. It was the first sign of distress, not anger, that I had seen in her. She took a long, deep breath and then said firmly, "I felt what was happening to Thais. My family have always been pretty close- and my power felt it when the world revolted against what Cacia was doing."

She shivered a little.

"The Earth… didn't like it. Even though Cacia's magick isn't connected to them, it felt the unnaturalness. Anyway, I came rushing back. When I got there, Cacia wasn't there but Rheon was. He told me what they had done, and why. And then he told me that if I ran away again…"

"It would be another one of your family," I finished for her, nodding. "I understand. What has happened since then?"

I wasn't surprised with the answer I got. Rheon, it seemed, was putting Lian under pressure to join us. I didn't really want the to join us, to be honest. It made much more sense to have them as impartial- but not disinterested- adjudicators. I smiled wryly to myself. After all… Rheon didn't want adjudicators. In fact, Rheon didn't want anything but dead Angels.

I looked at the pain in her face as she talked about the day her family had been broken apart, and I felt the frustration I had felt ebbing away. No, I couldn't work miracles for Lian- but she wasn't to blame for thinking I might be able to. She wasn't to know exactly how I stood in the Authority, and I was Ciaran's second after all…

"I'll talk to Ciaran," I promised tiredly. "I don't know how much difference it'll make, but I'll do what I can. It might…" I paused, not entirely sure how she would react to my suggestion. "Look," I began again, "I know you don't want anything to do with us or the Council of the Divine, for that matter. But can I make a suggestion?"

Lian nodded, eyes narrowed as she looked at me.

"Agree to be part of Mage-Angel negotiations," I suggested. "We- they- will need someone impartial who can keep order. And the humans can't understand the magickal differences between the groups, if you see what I mean. But if you do that, then you would at least be showing some sort of involvement in Authority affairs- and it might persuade Ciaran to get Cacia to give your sister's Gift back."

Lian nodded thoughtfully. To my relief, she didn't instantly reject the idea.

"I'll think about it," she agreed. "I do want a unified governing body, so I suppose I might be able to help."

I inclined my head slowly, feeling the ache of a long car journey pulling at my neck. "Good. Well- I'll do what I can. In return, I need you to promise me that no one will ever find out that we ever met. I would be in serious trouble if it was found out that I had been associating with you. Jon and Emory," I turned to look at them, "Know that. I've been working with them for months now-"

"How do you know each other?" Lian interrupted suddenly, turning to look at Jon and Emory sharply. "I mean, I would have thought that you-" she stopped, and Emory grinned at her.

"Don't worry, Lian. Thorn knows all about our attachments to the group we belong to. That's why we know him, sort of."

I smiled absently. It was, really. If it hadn't been for them joining that group, I would never have known them. Would never have known about some of the worst atrocities that were nearly committed by the violent resistance groups until they were underway.

Where had it begun?

I had picked up my ringing phone on a warm day at the end of June, and had been greeted by silence.

"Hello?" I had ventured, already rolling my eyes and dismissing the call as one of the many useless ones I received. It happened, sometimes- one of the perils of being in a relatively senior position in a public authority. Anonymous lunatics often seemed to believe that I would love to spend my time listening to them breathe or mutter threats at me. Surprisingly enough, I wouldn't.

"Is that Thorn Castleford?"

Now that, that was a break from tradition. Mostly they didn't ask- assumed that since this was my number, it was me. Either that or they didn't care who they were breathing at- I wasn't interested enough to ask. This voice, too, was young, collected and businesslike.

"Yes," I had agreed cautiously- and with a certain amount of certainty. "That's me."

There was a brief pause.

"You sound… young," the voice said, and it sounded surprised. That made me more interested. Most of the fake informers and nutters wouldn't have bothered questioning.

"So do you," I returned, grinning slightly. "What- or who- are you?"

It turned out that they were part of one of the few- the very few- peaceful Unification groups that demonstrated against both the Authority and the Divine; and that they didn't like the violent ones at all. The ones who bombed and kidnapped, maimed and tortured- the ones who used 'the cause' as a cover for their love of violence.

My informers- for there were, I found, two- were offering to provide me with names, dates, hard evidence. This was something that the Authority could do for good, they told me- bring mages to justice who had been murdering humans, Angels, and Mages.

"And in return?" I asked cautiously. "What do I give?"

"Warning, wherever possible, of raids on the anti-Authority mages, and Angels, in London."

"I'd have to use discretion," I warned. "Some of the Divine do need arresting- they've committed crimes."

"You know what we mean."

Yes, I had known what they meant. I thought of Krystallnacht in wartime Germany, and shivered as I read reports of Divine families relocated in Council housing for no reason. Of houses smashed and shops shut on petty grounds. Of arrests made for the shakiest of reasons.

It wasn't just the Authority where Mages could be found in administrative positions. There were no Mages or Angels in the actual government over the Humans… but in the local Councils, the Employment office… oh, there were Mages there. And most of them were perfectly happy to undertake small changes on behalf of the Authority.

The corruption sickened me. Ciaran, who sometimes seemed so normal, countenanced this, allowed this kind of discrimination. Rheon revelled in it. He also enjoyed my obvious disgust for it- always sending me the latest news reports that he knew I would recognise for what they were.

"All right," I had said eventually, "You're on."

Up until the fiasco caused by Rheon and Cacia, the deal had worked well. Oh, I was running risks… of course I was. I was running the risk of being tried by the Authority for treason, of losing my job and my home, and my few friends. But- the information that Jon and Emory provided me with was just too important to let go.

I listened as Emory explained all this to Lian, who listened in total silence. She didn't sit down, but stayed absolutely still in the doorway, her arms folded. The photograph in her file, I thought, barely did justice to the almost sharp lines of her face. Then I thought sadly that the photo had probably been taken before the stress and pain caused by the torture of her sister had taken place. No doubt that was the cause of the habitually closed expression on her face. Anger radiated from her like a continuous wave, but it was almost the wild pain of an animal in a trap.

A ferocious one, I thought as I looked at her. With fangs.

"That's the story," Jon agreed as Emory finished. "We didn't like the way some of the Mages resisting the Authority were behaving, so we decided to report them. We went to Thorn because Ciaran and Rheon are known to be unsympathetic towards all resistance to the Authority. Thorn… has a reputation for being more moderate in all ways."

"Do I?" I asked, faintly shocked that this was the case. I hadn't thought that I might have a reputation of any sort, but now I realised that was stupid of me. Of course I had a reputation. I was Ciaran's second, for heaven's sake! But somehow I couldn't equate myself with the elevated position I possessed.

Jon grinned at me, rightly interpreting my expression of disbelief. "Of course you do," he told me lightly. Lian smiled slightly, then walked forward and sat down between Emory and me.

"Maybe you should have told me in the first place," she suggested to her cousins, resting her chin on her hands.

"We were going to," Emory told her quickly. "Of course we were! But then- what happened, happened… and you were so angry, hated the Authority so much-"

"Emory," Lian snapped, flicking a quick glance in my direction. I shook my head.

"It's fine. I know you don't like the Authority, Lian- it was in your file, and you made it pretty clear yourself. Don't worry, I'm not going to go running back to Headquarters to say that you don't like us. I think we've pretty much got the idea anyway, but I wouldn't do it even if we didn't know." After that rather disjointed statement, I subsided into silence.

Lian's face flickered at the mention of her file, but she didn't say anything, only nodded.

"Well, you hated the Authority so much that Jon and I thought there was a possibility that you would think we were doing the wrong thing by reporting the terrorists."

For a minute Lian looked almost hurt, then she shrugged, shaking her head. I glanced at my watch then sighed.

"Look- I'd better be going," I said awkwardly. "I shouldn't spend too much time here. It's a bit risky. Much as I try to avoid being in papers… someone might just recognise me. I have to get back- I said I would be. I just- wanted to apologise for everything."

I stood up, feeling unusually uncomfortable. Emory stood up quickly, his usual grin spreading across his face.

"We- at least, Jon and I- accept the apology," he said rapidly, then paused. "I- I'm glad you had nothing to do with it," he continued, almost naively. "I like you- I didn't want to believe you would just let that happen."

"Thanks," I told him, and it was sincere. But even as I spoke, I felt a heavy weight drop onto my heart. Why was it that everyone thought I could do something? Certainly I would keep a close eye on Witch affairs from now on, but what if Ciaran did order Rheon to do it again? Realistically, there was nothing- nothing, short of something that would count as treason against the Authority- that I could do.

"Thorn-" Lian had stood up as well. "The apology's accepted. I'll think about your suggestion some more. Thank you for coming, and thank you for not intruding on my family. I- I appreciate it."

"It seemed like the right thing to do," I told her simply. "Please, though- don't mention that I've been here. I took a hideously foolhardy risk-"

"We won't," Jon promised me, smiling at me. "We promise. Thanks for coming, Thorn and- we'll be in touch."

I didn't say anything. There was nothing I could say. I smiled back, grateful beyond belief.

I arrived at Headquarters much earlier than I had expected. After all, this time there was no mad accident on the motorway, I didn't have to go via the roundabout route that I had before, or spend hours finding information on the Anselm family in order to get an address for the twins. Despite the quicker journey, it was still very dark when I arrived and I parked my car carefully in my space before climbing stiffly out.

Despite the sleep I had got earlier, I was still exhausted and I paused for a minute in the cold stillness of a winter- almost- night. Frosty air hung around me, chilling my mouth and nose as I breathed in, and I caught the sharp, tangy scent of bonfires. Leaf burning season was well underway in the Authority gardens.

I smiled to myself as I locked the car and walked unhurriedly to the entrance. I liked catching a few still minutes to myself when I could. I got precious few chances to just… think, without having something to think about.


My quiet time was broken as soon as I walked through the doors into Reception. I only just managed to not sigh with exasperation as I turned to meet the person who had called my name. There was only one person on the desk at this time in the evening- no more were really necessary- and it was she who had called my name.

"Hi," I greeted the blonde young woman, suppressing my weariness as I greeted her, "Busy day?"

She grinned crookedly back. I liked Jem- she was always friendly when I saw her, no matter how many nasty stories she had heard about me. In her early twenties, she was efficient and always cheerful.

"Pretty busy," she agreed. "Here." I took a stack of the white cards used to record messages from her outstretched hand.

"Great," I muttered dryly. "How did you guess? They're just what I always wanted."

"Happy birthday," Jem told me, "I couldn't resist."

I smiled at her, already flicking through the cards as I began to turn away. They were from yesterday as well- the two different sets of handwriting told me that much, if the scrawled dates didn't. Damn, a message from one of the Humans I worked closely with. I'd have to get in touch tomorrow…

"Were there any other messages?" I checked. Sometimes they didn't get written down as soon as they came through.

"All there." Jem indicated the pile in my hand.

"Thanks," I said absently, now really turning away. "Enjoy the rest of your shift, Jem."

"I'll do my best," she called after me wryly. I laughed and waved before making

my way up the flights of stairs to my room.

When I opened the door, I found a folded sheet of paper slid underneath it. Swearing a little as I bent stiffly to pick it up, I let the door shut behind me. I sat down in a chair, sliding the note under the stack of cards, then began to work my way through the messages. After the first couple I grabbed my diary from my desk and began to scribble down the names and return numbers of the people I needed to contact the next day.

Busy busy busy, my mind muttered, do we ever get a break?

"It's politics," I said absently. "We get breaks when people stop arguing, fighting, living…" I looked up sharply, realising two things almost simultaneously. One, I was talking out loud to my subconscious. Two, I was starving hungry. I had had a piece of toast to eat in… I made a face as I tried to remember when I had last eaten before that toast of Lian's.

With the reminder, my thoughts drifted back to the strange trio of Anselms. They were so… similar in some ways. Different in so many others. The twins always had the power to surprise me, even if I had met them in person only a couple of times. Lian, I thought, was… interesting. There was something about her face- the way she moved like she was already to fight- that fascinated the eye, made you watch her without realising it. And those eyes…

If she had been anyone but the top Witch in the Circle, I thought idly, I could have found myself being seriously attracted to those eyes.

But she is the top Witch in the Circle, my rational self reminded me. And she comes equipped with claws, too…

That thought unaccountably depressed me, and I fell to thinking about my last meeting with Ciaran instead.

As ever, my boss had puzzled me somewhat. I could never quite work out what he was going to do next… and this was no different. One moment he was telling me that he had always intended to hold talks with Cass. He hadn't told us all that Cass was coming, he said, because it was harder for people to object when the Angel had already turned up. The next minute, he was snapping at me for daring to criticise Rheon for torturing Lian's sister- daring to criticise Rheon for breaking Mage Lore!

I shook my head, feeling the frown deepen on my face. How much longer could Ciaran continue to hedge his bets between Rheon and me? It was all very well to say that we provided different points of view… but it was getting to the point where no one had a clue where Ciaran was attempting to take the Authority. This time next year, would we be fighting the Divine, or forming a joint governing body?

Or would we all be fighting the humans, finally sick of all our fighting and

preferring no magick people in the Circle at all…

Something would have to be done, I thought grimly- and then almost fell off my chair as I realised the implication of that thought. Did I have- would I ever have- the desperation to challenge Ciaran?

No, was the simple answer. I couldn't imagine killing someone- let alone killing someone I knew. In my time I had fought, robbed, broken and entered, threatened… but never killed. And I just couldn't do it.

Anyway, I thought shortly, it wouldn't work. If I did win, then I would still have Rheon and Cacia to deal with. I had no doubt that without them, the extremists in the Authority wouldn't cause a leader with different views much trouble. They cared about their jobs too much to threaten a leader. But Rheon had the unfortunate combination of charisma and extremism. He would- and could- persuade the lazy bigots who made up a depressingly large proportion of the Authority to follow him.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts, wondering when life had got this complicated. Of course there had always been a separation between the humans and the magick people… humans had never quite trusted our extra degree of power that they could never hope to defeat. But why had the Angels, the Divine, and the mages got so segregated?

The Gods, my mind told me flatly. It was the fault of the Gods.

In some respects, I thought, that had been true. They had been stupid enough to put the Divine in place, their messengers and their people, who kept an eye on the rest of us and let us know when we were going wrong. Their power to see human emotions and thoughts meant that they could sense lies and sins… When the Gods left, leaving no reason as to why or what we were supposed to do… the Divine had decided that they must have jurisdiction over all the magick people. Mages, Witches, Angels… everyone. The Mages hadn't liked that and had reacted by claiming that they should have jurisdiction over all the magickal peoples. They, they told the Divine, had experience of living in this world with the Humans- without a god given right to be there.

It's not the fault of the Gods that we're incapable of doing anything but fight to be top, I thought grimly. That was a human horror, not a god-given one.

I scowled down at the last card in my hand then put it aside. It left me with only the paper that had been thrust under the door. I unfolded it and immediately recognised the round squiggles of Kingfisher's handwriting. Frowning- why hadn't she rung my mobile?- I skim read the brief lines.


I need a word. Come and wake me up. It won't keep.


I sighed. It won't keep was a warning from Kingfisher. Something very urgent that she hadn't felt able to ring me about must have happened. She mustn't have thought I would be back this early- I sincerely doubted she would be in bed yet. I washed quickly, sloughing off the dirt of the long day and too little sleep. Pulling on a clean shirt, I rubbed a hand through my hair then stepped lightly across the corridor to King's room. I tapped softly, wondering if she might actually have got an early night if it had been a busy day.

Listening hard, wondering whether I should knock loud enough to wake her up, I heard a murmur of voices- one very possibly Kingfisher's- coming from Cass's room next door. I knocked there instead.

The voices halted abruptly, then the door opened a small distance and I saw a very small portion of Cass's face. He looked suspiciously out, then his eyes brightened.

"Thorn!" he exclaimed and grinned, before opening the door and letting me in.

Sure enough, Kingfisher was curled up in one of the armchairs next to the warm glow of the electric fire. Cass indicated the other armchair to me then perched himself on the end of his bed.

"You're back early," Kingfisher told me, smiling- as usual- as if it was Christmas.

"How did- whatever it was- go?"

"Better than expected," I told her, smiling, then tilted my head. "Have you been telling Cass indiscreet stories?"

Cass grinned at me. "Only ones about things you did," he told me. "King just took me down to get dinner today- and yesterday- and soothed my ruffled feathers after some nasty conversations."

"Damn," I said with feeling. "Rheon?"

Cass nodded, making a face. "Yes. He's quite- an aggressive negotiator, isn't he?"

"Diplomatically put," I said with admiration. "I'm sorry I wasn't here-"

"Don't be," Cass told me easily. "It wasn't an official meeting, anyway. Ciaran postponed the main negotiations until you got back. I think Rheon annoyed him, which is why he waited for you. I think he annoyed Rheon, which is why Rheon spent today attempting to frighten me out of staying on."

"Ah," I said uninformatively. Kingfisher nodded silently.

"I need an early night," she said, yawning and stretching her arms. "Early start tomorrow. Night, Cass. Thorn- a quick word in your ear?"

I said good night to Cass, then followed her next door into her own bright, cheerful untidy room.

"What's the matter?" I asked quietly. King sighed, turning round to face me and sat down on her bed.

"Thorn… Adam's here," she told me grimly. A rush of anxiety caught me around the throat, taking me by surprise and rendering me speechless. Kingfisher paused for a second then continued, "He got wind of Cass being here and decided to get in. You know-"

"He has the right to adjudicate on negotiations," I finished exasperatedly. "Damn him." It was the same Lore I was hoping Lian would take advantage of.

"He supports Rheon's sort of Authority!" King hissed. "That's two of them against Cass, not counting our darling Cacia."

"I know," I told her soothingly. "Don't worry, King. We'll find some way to neutralise Adam."

"How?" Kingfisher looked so worried, I reached out and gave her a hug.

"We'll find something," I promised her. "Really, King. Look, go to bed. I'll think about it and if there's nothing- I'll talk to Ciaran."


"Honestly, it's fine," I reassured her, though I really wasn't sure it was. What was I going to do? But I'd do something…

"Thorn, don't fool yourself!" Kingfisher snapped, looking suddenly angry. She should have been an almost comical sight, dressed in warm pyjamas and the habitual blue slippers as she glared at me. But she wasn't. It was the desperate look in her eyes.

"Don't you understand?" she asked, more quietly. "Don't you see? It doesn't matter what Cass says. Ciaran will support Rheon, because Rheon is so persuasive, and the rest of the Authority listen to him- he won't listen to you!"

"You don't know that," I told her gently and sat down on the edge of her bed, indicating that she should sit down too. I could tell she was upset. She wasn't smiling. "Ciaran isn't all that unreasonable. If we're lucky-"

"Luck?" Kingfisher snapped. "Luck? What's that supposed to do? Thorn, I've seen too many people shifted out of their positions because of Rheon and Cacia, too many Angels tried without real cause, too many peaceful demonstrations suppressed to believe luck can save us."

That hurt. There was something so terrible about seeing Kingfisher- happy, carefree Kingfisher- so totally lacking faith or any kind of motivation to carry on.

"I'll do something," I repeated. "I'll make sure we aren't defeated just yet, King." I looked at the look on her face, then silently reached out, opening my arms just as she hit me. I hugged my best friend, feeling the tension in her body as she wrapped her arms around me, and wondered just what I was going to do.

"What are you saying, Thorn?"

Lian's voice was cool and unconcerned across the crackle of a bad phone line the next morning. I had rung her early, before anyone else was up- and was unsurprised to find her awake and in a crisp mood. Shutting down the file where I had found her telephone number, I swallowed hard before answering.

"One witch is getting involved in negotiations that the Authority are engaging in," I said baldly. "I just felt you should be kept informed of what Adam was up to. Have you ever met him?"

There was silence, broken only by the hiss of static and my own breathing. I prayed that Cacia didn't repeat her morning visit to my rooms, because she really wouldn't approve of this conversation.

"You want me to come and negotiate," Lian said flatly. "Don't you?" I swallowed.

My brain was screaming yes of course I do, you stupid girl- why else would I be calling you? Somehow, though, I didn't think that would be appreciated as a response. Instead I made a noncommittal noise.

"Not necessarily," I told her. "I was just giving you warning. You wanted to be kept informed- I was informing you." Lian snorted.

"Forgive me if I find that hard to believe, Thorn. But- tell me what's happening anyway. I'll see what I think."

I took a long deep breath. Of course I hadn't told Jon, Emory and Lian about Cass's arrival. It wouldn't have been right to do so. But now the situation had changed. What was my first priority- the security of the Authority or the survival of all the magickal peoples?

I sighed then shut my eyes for a long moment. This- felt like a step too far.

"Don't worry," I said shortly. "I'll- I'll deal with it myself."

I put the phone down over Lian's startled protests.

Damn, I thought, closing my eyes. Why can't I defy this? Why couldn't I just ignore the rules of secrecy just this once, when it was so important?

I shook my head. I knew why. Because deep down, despite my hatred for everything that large numbers of my colleagues stood for, I loved the Authority. I loved the people around me, I loved the buzz of successful negotiations and the unpredictability… and I loved, really loved discussing things, arguing and trying to make the world a better place. And because of my misguided affection for an institution more and more founded in corruption and deceit… I had just possibly failed to save it. The irony wasn't lost on me.

I sighed, reaching out to the phone- but stopped myself. It wouldn't change anything- I had made my choice now, and I couldn't go back on it.

I made myself a strong cup of coffee then walked down the corridor with it. I avoided Kingfisher's room although I could tell she was up- I could hear her music pounding through her door. Too much of a coward to admit to her that I had just given up our only chance of beating Rheon, Cacia and Adam, I wandered miserably up a couple of floors to my favourite room in the Authority building.

Part of its appeal was the fact that I had never seen any one else there. It wasn't a big room, but the ceiling was high and airy and one of the walls was completely composed of large windows that led out onto a stone balcony. I had the feeling that someone else- maybe Ciaran, even- used this room, because it was always clean and free from dust. It was comfortably furnished with easy chairs by the window and the floor was covered in a deep pile carpet.

I sank into my favourite chair, high backed and dusty summer sky blue, and took a sip from the still steaming cup in my hand. Outside the sky was grey with the heavy threat of thunder and needles of rain were splintering against the stone balustrade. I watched idly as water sprayed up from the moss covered paving and checked my watch. It was half past nine, the first meeting due to begin at ten thirty. I had an hour respite before the trouble began. An hour to make up a plan.

An hour…

Half an hour later, I was walking up and down as the rain hammered on the French windows. I still didn't have a clue what I was going to say, what persuasion Kingfisher and I could use to attempt to persuade Ciaran to defy Adam as well as Cacia and Rheon…

"Hello, Thorn."

I froze, mid step, then very carefully turned around to face the newcomer. A tall young man, certainly not much older than me, was leaning against the doorpost. His dark hair- a shade or two lighter than mine- was pulled into a short ponytail, stray strands falling across his eyes, which were fixed on me.

I recognised him with a tiny shock- it had been two years since I last saw him, and he was looking very different. Then he had been a friend of Rheon's- the one who helped him break my arm and the one who left me with the tiny bump on my nose that signalled past pain and blood.

"Adam," I said quietly and sat back down again. "How have you been?" He moved forwards and sat down opposite me. In the silence the rain drummed against the glass, as if someone was begging to come in.

"Well," he told me politely, then looked me up and down, smiling. "You've been busy since I last saw you."

"Things change," I said coolly. "Ciaran has been very good to me." Adam shrugged.

"I'm sure it was no more than you deserved."

I smiled deprecatingly, knowing it was what I should do. This conversation between known ideological adversaries was, like so many of the conversations that took place in this building, scripted. I could not be rude to Adam Williams any more than I could have been rude to the human negotiators who came to meetings.

Part of me scowled as I thought that. Rheon had got away with being rude to Cass…

"You'll always get what you deserve," he continued smoothly. "Which is why Rheon will be the next leader of the Authority, not you."

That wouldn't have annoyed me so much if it hadn't been for the fact that I thought he was probably right. Rheon had far more support than I had- he was more likely to be in a position to challenge Ciaran than I was. Not for the first time I wondered why we still persisted in these archaic feudal system of leader selection. Shaking that thought off, I raised an eyebrow to Adam's bland face. The rain drummed on the window, fracturing my thoughts into shattered pieces.

Why are you here… I want Lian to be here, not you…what is the point?...why can't we just be left alone- why- why- why can't Lian be here too?

Why was she in my thoughts again? Lian wasn't here, she was not a part of this-

But she is a part of this, my mind insisted. She is the greatest Witch in the British Circle- and you threw her help away.

"Thorn, you're looking a little- tired," Adam said coolly. "Are you ready for these negotiations? I wouldn't want you to be losing your edge."

"Not losing my edge," I said shortly. "Just considering my options."

"You think you have options?"

I bit back a retort. I knew Ciaran would be past angry if I screamed at Adam Williams. Instead I just looked at the boy- young man, really- who stood in front of me. What did I know about him?

More than Rheon knew that I knew, that was for sure. Kingfisher's computer expertise was very handy, and I had read the encrypted files on each of the Witches now. She had, while I was visiting Lian and the twins, printed out hard copies of the files and left them in our usual private place.

Adam Williams was twenty-one, good looking and devastatingly intelligent. He had made his choice to ally with the Authority just before Ciaran's ascension and nobody, least of all me, had been surprised. He had not been allied with us from a young age, but had made his choice based clearly upon our chances of victory if it ever came to all out magickal war.

I wondered if there was anything but cold calculation in his decision, but I doubted it… I knew little of his history because there was little in our files, but I could fill in some of the gaps myself. He had slept his way through school with teacher after pupil, and had used his undoubted physical advantages to blackmail himself to every advantage he could. I knew this because it was in his files.

I guessed that in a world where people either wanted him, wanted him dead or wanted him on their side he had survived by being on nobody's side and using people's desire to fuel his own career. I didn't blame him for that- if I had been in his position and had his natural advantages and intelligence, I would have done the same. In this world, survival was everything. Trust was absolutely nothing.

The difficulty was that if you hadn't read his files, Adam was charming. Not to me, but we had been sworn against each other since he broke my arm- then laughed when I screamed.

I glared at him, knowing he was beginning to get to me and hating him for it. It wasn't necessary, was it?

And then, breaking the tension, my phone rang. Adam jumped slightly, then raised his eyebrows as I answered.

"King?" I questioned. "What is it? I'm having a quick word with Adam." I knew that Kingfisher would pick up the warning. She knew that Adam would be likely to hear what she said if he was there.

"Thorn, we have a- development," she said, her clipped tones telling me that she was trying very hard to hide some strong emotion. "A new party has requested entrance to today's meetings. Your presence is required in Ciaran's office. Ciaran instructs that you and Adam should come there immediately."

Hope struck me like a physical blow. Could- was it possible-

"Kingfisher," I said slowly, "Who is the new party?"

Adam and I walked to Ciaran's office in silence, mine heavy with anticipation and his with an emotion I couldn't name. I found Adam hard to read, possibly because I didn't believe him capable of showing the truth. When we arrived at the door, Kingfisher was standing there, holding a file.

"Adam," she said shortly, not looking at him. "Ciaran requests that you wait in my office for now. Thorn, you can go in."

I walked through the door.

Sitting opposite Ciaran was Cass, dressed in a high necked green jumper and dark trousers. He turned as I came in and grinned at me. I smiled back, then turned my gaze to the person sitting next to him.

A young woman, dressed in an almost painfully neat black suit and a pale blue shirt, looked at me with a steady piercingly indigo blue gaze. Her dark curls were brushed into a neat ponytail and a black coat hung over the back of her chair. I stared at her. This was no longer the eighteen year old, angry girl who had made such a vast impression on me less than twenty four hours before, though they shared a body. This was a highly organised girl ready to take part in what could be life changing history. I doubted that, though. I had a feeling we weren't going to get any further today.

We never did… we never get anywhere because everyone CARES TOO MUCH. That thought startled me. How was it possible that people caring could cause this much trouble?

"Thorn," Ciaran said reprovingly- he'd obviously noticed my intense gaze. "I'm pleased- if somewhat startled- to introduce you to Liana Anselm."

I blinked, recovering my poise. Of course, I had to pretend I'd never met her before in my life.

"Miss Anselm," I said quickly, stepping forward and holding a hand out to her.

"Thorn Castleford." Lian stood, shaking my hand with a firm grasp that didn't surprise me.

"Lian," she told me firmly. "I don't like Liana particularly."

I nodded my assent, then sat down quietly. It was clear that Ciaran had been in the middle of asking something.

"I don't want to sound rude," he began, frowning, "But- why are you here? You've shown no interest in participating in negotiations before now."

Lian, who had sat back down next to Cass, shrugged. "I heard that the negotiations were occurring," she said simply. "I wished to be involved. I'm somewhat surprised that I wasn't informed that the negotiations were happening, as it seems that at least one Witch has been involved."

"How on Earth do you know?"

"Your opposite leader let me know," she said bluntly. "Oriel rang me and asked me if I was going to be involved in the negotiations, didn't you know?" She didn't actually say that we had probably monitored the phone call, but it was implicit in her voice.

Ciaran flinched slightly, which surprised me. Lian carried on as if she hadn't noticed.

"She told me that she had thought I would probably have known, because Adam Williams was going to be involved. Having had no information about any Divine-Authority negotiations, I made enquiries."

Had she, I wondered. After all, it was entirely possible that she had older and more reliable informants in the Authority than me. But somehow I doubted it. In which case, she was shielding me… I was also impressed by Oriel's sense- she had clearly discovered Adam's anti-Divine prejudices and decided to do something about it. Kingfisher and I had been wrong- we weren't alone.

I did my best not to look surprised by what Lian was saying, but I needn't have bothered. Ciaran and, to my surprise, Cass were both looking astonished. Diplomatic masks were slipping all over the place, it seemed.

"How on Earth did Oriel know about Adam?" Ciaran wondered out loud. I was tempted to bash my head on the nearest wall. Honestly. Oriel should have known- either Adam or Ciaran should have informed her. But Ciaran had just admitted that they had knowingly not informed her.

"I don't know," Lian said calmly, but I could tell by the glint in her eyes that she had picked up on that flaw too. "But I don't think that that is quite the point, do you? In any case, I would suggest that we've wasted enough time discussing this. Before we begin the negotiations I'd like a quick word with my fellow Witch."

Ciaran gaped at her. I fought the urge to scream at him. Why, why, couldn't he think on his feet at the moment? I took charge of the moment, feeling my irritation fade. Ciaran wasn't a bad person, I knew that… I just wished that he was a bit more decisive.

"Adam is down the corridor, Miss Anselm," I said neutrally, catching her eye. "I'll take you."

I stood up, allowing Lian to pass me at the door, then closed it behind us.

"Thank you," I said quietly, with enormous relief. "For not-"

"Before you ask," Lian said sharply, over the top of my sentence, "I will not inform you who my sources inside the Authority are."

She shut her eyes for a fraction longer than that of an ordinary blink and I jumped as suddenly I felt the wood of the beams in the wall I was leaning my hand on stir. Not literally- it was more a feeling of suddenly coming alive…

Later, a voice/thought that sounded/felt almost but not quite like Lian whispered through my fingers, though I heard it inside my head. Not advisable now, later.

"All right," I said bleakly, as if in answer to her previous comment, and put one hand out to open the door into Kingfisher's office. "Let's introduce you to Adam. I warn you, he's attractive, manipulative and very charming. Don't trust him an inch." I was taking a risk, speaking to her so informally when someone might hear- but I needed to warn her. Lian grinned.

"He sounds like fun," she commented. I smiled back without humour.

"Fun like having waterfights next to plug sockets," I told her dryly and opened the door. Adam was reading one of Kingfisher's books, one leg crossed over the other, and was turning the chair backwards and forwards absently as he read.

When we entered, he looked up. His eyes narrowed slightly as he caught sight of me, then widened as he looked past me to Lian.

"Adam," I said as neutrally as I could, "This is Liana Anselm. Miss Anselm, Adam Williams."

Lian held out a hand, eyes coolly assessing. Adam held her gaze as he stood and shook hands. I had to admire his ability to make people like him. He held her fingers in his for no longer than was necessary, then sat back down. I could see him formulating a plan of attack, calculating an assessment of Lian's weak points, prides and likely interests. Then Lian turned to me.

"Thorn, I'd like to speak to Adam alone if possible," she said firmly. "It's necessary." I nodded.

"Of course, Miss Anselm. Call my phone-" I wrote the extension number down on the pad in front of me, "From the one on the desk when you're ready."

Lian nodded. Adam remained silent, watching Lian.

"Thank you," she said sincerely and then, "Please remember that message I gave you. It must be dealt with." I held back a smile. I thought that I may just have been warned that I would hear details of this conversation later.

"All right," I agreed. "I'll sort it out. Adam, Miss Anselm." Lian shot me a smile, almost the first that I had seen on her face. I was surprised at how much younger she looked, her expression lighting up.

"Thorn-" she said quietly, fixing my gaze with her own, "It's Lian."