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On the road to Paris, France – Wednesday, the 6th of June, 2012. 11:05 AM.
 
 
“Who is Gentleman? Another one of your Nameless?” Sarina asked as the car rolled on, away from the temporary home she’d occupied for the last four days.

Despite the fact she’d focused much of her Evolved research efforts over the past days on heroes rather than rogues—which was probably why she’d never heard of Ace, Tess, Sunny, or Snow before—the name Gentleman had a familiar ring to it. She remembered some a magazine article about a theater actor who had actually got powers that corresponded with the roles he’d played before he’d transitioned.

“Gentleman’s an ally,” Ace said. “You get to know a whole bunch of people when you travel around like we do.”

“He’s actually the reason we’re headed to Paris,” Sunny added.

Sarina craned her neck to face the boy. “He is?”

Sunny nodded. “We had some problems about a month ago—someone could actually see us, if you can believe that—and he helped us out. The Rogues we’re meeting up with in Paris all know him, so they’re gonna introduce us and so we can figure out how to work together to deal with some trouble we’re facing.”

“What kind of trouble?” Sarina asked, interested. This was her world now.

Sunny shrugged. “Trouble that affects Evolved all over the world. Power surges and all that stuff. Apparently Gentleman knows all about that sort of stuff.”

Hopefully he’ll be able to explain it to me, then. She hadn’t been able to get feedback theory out of her head ever since her brother had told her about it last night.

Jasper didn’t have anything to add, but he reached over to offer Sarina something in his open hand. Looking down, she noted a piece of Swiss chocolate on his palm. She smiled, then picked it up. He smiled back.

How does he always seem to know just when I need cheering up? she wondered. He was just a nice guy like that.

She sank into her seat and nibbled on her piece of chocolate, watching the mountainous landscape drift past the car window. Steep, rocky mountainsides gradually gave way to gently sloping hills and leafy trees with vivid green canopies, marking the season as early summer. As they traveled forward, her old life seemed to drift away from her like a windswept leaf.

I just abandoned my family, she realized. The thought filled her eyes with a burning sensation and she blinked, struggling against it.

She wondered if David had got her text message by now. If he had, what was he thinking? She couldn’t imagine the Covenant openly admitting to any murderous designs on her.

There was still a flicker of doubt lodged inside her chest as to whether these strangers would be able to hide her from the Covenant. Were Sunny’s powers really strong enough to outdo the world’s most powerful hero team? Sure, the Nameless seemed to think so, but could she really trust their opinion of what was best for her?

She shook her mind free of the trajectory it was on. If Jasper trusts them, then that’s good enough for me.

She glanced over at her friend. He was leaning against the window beside him, seemingly relaxed and enjoying the patch of sunlight that cast a warm glow over his gentle face. Sensing her watching him, he looked over and gave her a thumbs up. Then he pulled an MP3 player out of his pocket, reminding her of something else she’d been meaning to ask him about.

“Hey, Jasper? You know that track you sent me?”

He nodded, encouraging her to continue.

“How’d you think to make it for me?”

“You said you were disappointed that your power stopped working, so I wanted to see if I could fix it,” he told her. It sounded just like something he’d do.

“Well, it worked,” she told him. She lowered her voice as she spoke, even though the others had most likely watched the whole thing unfold from start to finish via webcam. “It made me change my room when I wasn’t even dancing! I didn’t try to do anything, actually. Just . . . bam!”

He didn’t look at all surprised. “Cool.”

“How’d you do it?” she pressed.

“I just used the bass from your transition soundtrack, then mixed it up with something that seemed to fit your personality.” He blushed a little as he said this last part. He looked suddenly vulnerable.

“It seems like I’m full of chirping birds and flutes?” Sarina cocked an eyebrow.

He grinned back cheekily. “Hey, it worked, didn’t it? Maybe you’re a Swiss child of nature after all.”

Sarina feigned annoyance, but she couldn’t keep it up for long. Something about the way he sat there, with that goofy smile on his face, made her forgive him instantly.

“Why no lyrics?” she asked, recalling something he’d mentioned yesterday.

“Because lyrics can give a real power-boosting effect sometimes. Which I didn’t think you’d be into quite yet.”

She was grateful for that. She could barely handle the small change to her décor that the instrumental track had brought on.

“And what’s up with the number fourteen?” she probed. “You made thirteen others before you finally sent me one?”

Jasper nodded.

“That’s a lot of trying,” Sarina noted.

“My power involves some trial and error,” Jasper admitted. “I didn’t think the others turned out right. I had a good feeling about number fourteen, though.”

“Well, thanks for all the effort,” she said. “I really appreciate it. But . . . why’d you do it?” She didn’t want to sound ungrateful, but she really did want to know.

“I’ll explain that one,” Tess cut in from the driver’s seat. Sarina hadn’t realized she’d been listening in on their conversation. “We only gave your man one chance to convince us to drive all this way to pick you up.”

They’d only pick me up if Jasper could get my power to work? Something about that seemed a bit messed up.

“We’re no charity,” Tess explained. “Can’t pick up every kid along the way.”

Sarina glanced to the side, waiting for Jasper to protest, but he never did. He just fussed with his MP3 player, the humor gone from his features.

So they didn’t save me simply out of the goodness of their hearts, after all, Sarina thought.

She figured she should probably say something. Vent her feelings in some way. She just didn’t know how to feel right now. Besides, this whole situation was already a lot to process. She’d just learned her heroes wanted her dead, not to mention the fact that she’d just left everything and everyone she loved behind. All in less than an hour.

Sarina decided to figure it all out later. She would pull Jasper aside for a private chat as soon as possible. She had to know what the Nameless wanted from her and her power—because obviously it was something.

She watched Jasper from the corner of her eye. Had she been wrong about him? She shook the thought off almost immediately. No, she didn’t think so.

He’d mentioned having known Tess for some time, but why exactly he trusted the group as a whole, she had no idea. Sure, from her back seat perspective, they didn’t look all that threatening. But as far as Sarina knew, the whole lot of them could be on some crazy kamikaze mission.

She shifted her glance to Ace. He seemed to be the leader, and he didn’t seem overly concerned about anything they were up against. Having plunged headfirst into this trip to Paris without any concrete ideas on how to stay alive, she decided she had no choice but to trust the Aussie’s judgment for the moment.

Jasper nudged her with his elbow. He held out an ear bud as a peace offering, and she accepted.

“Don’t worry about the playlist on this one.” He lifted the MP3 player from his leg, letting it dangle from his fingers. “Straight from iTunes. Totally kosher. No funny business.”

She put the ear phone in her ear and her consciousness was immediately filled with upbeat tunes. The guy always did know how to cheer her up.

For the next couple of hours, Tess drove silently, a light smile visible on her lips whenever she shifted position to adjust the controls. Ace occasionally talked into the phone, discussing their current location with whomever had answered his call. Sunny slouched in his seat in the rear, one arm draped over his eyes, while the white-haired girl sat so quietly beside him that she almost seemed to disappear.

Snow. Sarina shifted in her seat to get a better look at the girl, though she was careful not to be too obvious about it. She saw Snow staring out the window, watching the passing landscape without an ounce of interest in anything else going on around her.

It’s like she’s in a world of her own, Sarina thought. She’d once taken refuge in withdrawing in the same way. Worried that Snow might catch her staring, Sarina shifted her gaze to Sunny.

He winked at her.

“The kid is probably the most powerful of the Nameless,” Jasper told her, following Sarina’s glance. “He’s the reason the Covenant can’t keep tabs on us.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty awesome,” Sunny agreed, putting words in Jasper’s mouth. “And I’m no kid. I’m sixteen, Pom.

“Sixteen? You’re full of shit,” Tess said. “Being a kid’s the only reason you get all that special treatment.”

“No,” Sunny countered. “I get all that special treatment because I’m awesome and you need me.”

No one disagreed.

Sarina made an attempt to soften the sudden shift in mood. “What’s a Pom?” she asked. She’d never heard the term before.

“That’s what Aussies call us Englishmen,” Jasper said, not sounding particularly offended. “Mostly when we beat them in cricket or football.”

“You’re Australian too?” Sarina asked Sunny doubtfully.

“Nah,” he admitted. “I’m from Ireland, like Tess.”

“I’m the only real Aussie here,” Ace said proudly.

A small sound came from the seat behind Sarina, reminding her of Snow’s presence. Something about the girl made it easy to forget she was even there.

“Where are you from, Snow?” Sarina asked, turning in her seat.

The girl swept some alabaster tresses from her Asian features but didn’t respond. Sarina shrank back down in her seat. Something about the way Snow ignored her made her feel self-conscious.

“And I guess you all already know that I’m from Switzerland,” Sarina said with as much confidence as she could muster.

“Your English is pretty good,” Sunny said.

“Strong accent, but understandable enough,” Tess agreed. “English-speaking family?”

“Yeah, sort of,” Sarina told them. “Foster parents, some years ago.” She didn’t really care to elaborate.

Tess was watching her in the rearview mirror. Studying her. “Touchy subject, looks like.”

You don’t know the half of it.

“Let’s save the backstory for another time,” Ace suggested, saving Sarina some embarrassment. “I just got a text. The unrest in Paris is developing into a real mess.”

“What unrest?” Sarina started, then corrected herself, feeling stupid. “They’re protesting about Shanti in Paris too?”

“Worse,” Ace grumbled. “The protests were yesterday; now we’re in full-on riot mode.”

“Preacher’s cult’s probably making it worse,” Tess said. “Fanning the flames and all. We better just hope they don’t get their hands on too many firearms. Who knows what those religious nuts are capable of.”

Riots and cult followers with firearms. How had things gotten so messed up in the four days she’d been in the army barracks? She closed her eyes and slipped Jasper’s earphone back into her ear, wishing for the world to make sense again.

Jasper handed her the player so she could be in charge of it. She flipped through the tracks until she found one that suited her melancholic mood, then replayed it over and over as the car rolled its way towards the French border. The tunes helped put her at ease, at least for now.

The night is not aware,

Listen to the song that passes through,

These precious dreams we share,

They’re alive with the sound of you,

They approached the French border crossing with very little fanfare. They didn’t need to stop at customs; Tess simply drove around the booths in a wide berth. None of the guards seemed to notice them, and no howling sirens trailed in their wake.

Sarina was starting to get used to the idea that maybe she had truly escaped the Covenant’s tracking powers for good.

 

+++

 

They reached the outskirts of Paris by late afternoon. It quickly became clear that despite the city’s reputation, there wasn’t any hint of love to be found in its traffic-choked streets. Even in the less crowded suburbs, where clusters of people were marching around with raised fists and protest banners. The shouts of protest flooded through the station wagon’s closed windows, drowning out even the honking of car horns.

The UNEOA’s emblem had been defaced in many creative ways on signs that were being raised throughout the streets. Images of Shanti also rode high above the crowd, reminding everyone of the Healer’s death at the heroes’ hands. A group of students had gathered beside a fountain to burn a life-sized Radiant poster; as it caught alight, the air resounded with cheers.

Sarina peeked out through the car window with mixed feelings. She hated when people’s emotions ran too hot, but she could relate to the protesters’ feelings. Shanti was dead. The world was changing, and not in a good way.

She glanced over to Jasper. He’d sunk a little lower in his seat, the fingers of one hand draped over his brow as if trying to shield his eyes from the chaos outside. He noted her glance and brought his hand next to hers, the tips of his fingers just barely brushing her wrist.

“Thanks,” she whispered, although she wasn’t sure what for, exactly. The silent reassurance, she supposed.

“It’s actually pretty peaceful so far, considering how many rogues must be out here,” Tess said from the driver’s seat, noting one particularly crudely defaced UNEOA banner.

“Good point,” Ace agreed. “How many are in France, anyways? Three or four dozen? Maybe more?”

Sarina was confused. That seemed like a particularly high number, especially since her research had indicated a maximum of two hundred and fifty Evolved worldwide. “What are they all doing in Paris?” she asked.

“Haven’t you heard, Wondergirl?” Ace pushed the hat up from his brow and turned to face her from the front passenger seat. “France is a special case in Evolved politics. They never gave the Covenant full authority within their borders.”

“And rogues like that they’re not under anyone’s thumb here,” Sarina guessed, recalling her own recent experience.

“You betcha!” confirmed Ace.

“So much so that half of Europe’s rogue Evolved immigrated to France,” Tess added. “Although the UNEOA’s got their panties in a wad over it, of course.”

Sarina struggled to piece it all together. “Wait. Does that mean the Covenant can’t kill me as long as I’m in France?”

“You wish,” Ace replied. “But nope. It just means they don’t snoop around as much. Execution orders are still execution orders, girlie.”

“But don’t worry,” Sunny chimed in with a hand over his heart. “We’re protecting you!”

Sarina had no reason to doubt him.

They encountered their first roadblock a few minutes later. Tess stopped the car and turned to Sunny. “I’m not picking up enough area information with the car’s sensor range. No idea what roads are passable. You get anything useful, kid?”

The teenage boy closed his eyes nearly completely, deep in concentration. About thirty seconds later he opened them. “My French sucks, but let’s stay away from Palais-Royal or Versailles. There’s a lot of chatter going on about them.”

What, can he intercept radio signals or something, too? Sarina’s attention was drawn back to the boy. The more she learned about him, the more she had to agree that he was pretty awesome. His powers seemed way more useful than her own. She wished she could have done something useful to help the group navigate through the chaos, too.

“Let’s hope this doesn’t end with any heads rolling,” Ace joked humorlessly. “You know, like the French Revolution. Get it?”

Tess groaned as she tapped the steering wheel with her fingers. “We just have to get to the district of Passy. My guess is that we could go the long way around and drive in from Sainte-Germain-something-or-other to the west.”

Ace’s nod as the decision-maker settled the matter.

“It’s gonna set us way back though, time-wise,” Tess muttered. “I hope our man’s in a forgiving mood today.”

Sarina wasn’t sure what to make of the comment. Who’s ‘their man’? And why do we need his forgiveness? The riots aren’t our fault.

“Eve and the others are gonna be later than us,” Ace said. “So if he gets mad at us, it’ll be worse for them.”

Sarina figured they must be referring to their other friends who were going to introduce them to Gentleman.

“Raven’ll be late for sure, ’cause he’s not flying,” Ace added. “Probably not a bad idea right now. But maybe he’ll be pissy enough to leave that smug grin home.”

Sarina’s ears perked up. The name Raven sounded familiar; he was the rogue Darkshaper who led an underground rogue group—a group that a lot of people wanted to join because Raven, it was rumored, could make others fly. Under different circumstances, she might have been tempted to join herself. Not that she’d admit that to Ace, though. He seemed to hold more than a little hostility towards the winged Darkshaper.

She was glad she hadn’t heard the Nameless mention meeting up with any villains. Sure, she hadn’t recognized all the names they’d tossed around, but it wasn’t like there were all that many villains out there in the first place. Especially since the instant an Evolved did anything villainous they usually got removed from the picture.

Although it seemed like some Evolved who hadn’t done anything villainous were now getting removed from the picture, too.

She cleared her throat. “Where are we staying?” she asked, wanting to think of something more pleasant. They were in Paris, after all.

“A real nice mansion,” Ace said, with a note of enthusiasm.

“So your friend Gentleman’s rich?” Sarina asked, then checked herself so she wouldn’t sound rude. “I mean, housing prices in Paris must be through the roof, right?”

Ace shrugged. “Maybe he’s rich, maybe not. But it doesn’t matter, ’cause it ain’t Gentleman who’s hosting us.”

“It’s not?” Sarina asked in a small voice.

“Nope, Wondergirl, it’s not. But don’t worry. We’re all gonna be royalty.”

 

+++

 

After Ace’s grand announcement, the house they pulled up to left Sarina underwhelmed. Sure, it looked nice, but not quite as palatial as she’d expected.

It blended nicely with the neighborhood’s nineteenth-century theme: two stories of heavily ornamented golden brown stone with tall, narrow windows. Its roof consisted of multiple dark blue domes. A generous expanse of overgrown garden surrounded it, protected by high walls and a massive iron-barred gate.

Too bad they can’t afford a gardener, Sarina thought, eyeing the wildly sprouting vegetation with some suspicion.

The gate automatically opened as their car approached. It must have been controlled remotely, for there wasn’t a security guard in sight and no intercom system to demand an identity check. Tess steered the car down a long driveway and stopped in front of the house.

“No welcoming committee this time?” Ace commented, peering out the window. “The man’s not losing his charm, I hope.”

“He’s probably short on staff,” Tess said. “Everything’s changed now that the Covenant’s out for blood.”

“Where are we?”

Sarina looked to Jasper for answers and he was quick to comply. “From what I’ve gathered, the rest of the group visited this place a few weeks ago, before I hooked up with them,” he explained in a quiet voice. “Back then at least, there were quite a few rogues staying here at the court. But it looks like a lot of them must have gone back to their home countries because of the political situation.”

Sarina nodded in understanding, but she was still confused. Why were other Evolved fleeing France when it was the only European country that denied the Covenant full authority? And if other Evolved were fleeing this place for their own safety, then why did the Nameless bring her here?

She forced herself to get out of the car, knowing that if she started chickening out now, she’d make an ass of herself.

It didn’t sit well with her, but she knew it was too late for doubts. Besides, Jasper didn’t look particularly concerned, so she figured he knew more about this whole deal than she did.

The six of them walked towards the massive front door. Just like the gate, it swung open on its own accord as they approached. Sarina couldn’t help but gasp in amazement as she stepped inside.

The house’s interior far outshone its outer appearance. Every inch of the entrance foyer had been tastefully decorated, arranged, or painted in a way that suggested a strong Renaissance-era influence. All the wealth and beauty of the early days of Versailles, brought to life in modern day.

Sarina noticed immediately that the light seemed to obey different laws here—laws that could only have been redefined by Lightshaper powers. A faint golden glow clung to every surface, literally making the entire space appear in the best possible light.

“This isn’t real,” she said, impressed against her will. The anxieties she’d felt only moments before evaporated in the warm golden sheen.

The magical atmosphere seemed to have a similar effect on Jasper, too. He’d stopped dead in his tracks beside her, ear buds dangling forgotten from his neck.

As Sarina looked all around her, she was once again startled when her eyes landed on Snow. Despite being quite a sight with her oddly pale coloring, her teardrop tattoo, and alabaster doll’s dress, she was quite easy to overlook. Not exactly removed from the picture, just lacking presence as much as she lacked color. But at the moment she was actually smiling, which in itself was enough to give Sarina pause.

“Welcome to the land where nothing’s as it appears to be,” Sunny chortled, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

“What is this place?” Sarina murmured.

But before anyone could answer her, a dwarf hobbled into the entrance, dressed in a miniature page’s livery complete with frills and a white-locked wig.

Sarina couldn’t help but stare, and not just at the ridiculous outfit. His Little Person’s stunted stature immediately made him identifiable as Colosso, a powerful Revoker and the world’s shortest Evolved.

The tiny man called out to the arrivals in a surprisingly sonorous voice. “Welcome to the Sun King’s court.” He spoke with a heavy accent that Sarina couldn’t place.

We’re at the Sun King’s house? Suddenly it all made perfect sense.

The Sun King was an eccentric French rogue who’d become relatively well known around the world for his friendship with France’s president. The pairing regularly made international news for its sheer peculiarity. Sarina hadn’t known the Lightshaper ruled over a court of his own, but given his Evolved name, she supposed it made sense.

“Please, come in,” Colosso urged, already sounding irritated with the new guests.

Ace waved a hand in Snow’s direction. “Her, too?”

“The white girl does not enter the court,” the small-statured page said firmly. “I’ll show her to a room upstairs, same as last time.”

Sarina felt sorry for the girl. Sure, she was a little creepy looking, but she seemed totally harmless. Sarina turned to Snow to give her a commiserating look, but the girl’s faraway expression gave no indication that she’d even heard her name being brought up, or that she cared.

Sunny must have noticed Sarina’s look, because he brought a hand to his mouth for a stage whisper. “The Princess doesn’t like her.”

The Princess? This day keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Before she had a chance to ask Jasper about it, the foyer’s interior double doors swung open to reveal a reception room even more luxurious than the entrance.

Tall windows lined the back wall and expanded into a semicircular niche that housed one half of a long antique table. A dozen high-backed chairs were drawn up to it, and the flowing curtains, decadent furniture, and impressive artwork gave the same impression of opulence as the foyer. The early evening light flooded the room through the windows, painting everything in the most favorable hues.

Sarina’s attention was immediately drawn to the dark-skinned man sitting at one end of the grand table.

From his attire of lavish late Renaissance–era garments, she supposed that he was the so-called Sun King. His red velvet frock featured enormously wide-cut sleeves and a spill of frilly white silk that spilled over his chest. The long curls of black hair that extended to his elbows suggested a wig.

But it was his magnetic aura that captured her attention, much more so than even his clothes. Is this powers, too? Sarina wondered. Never before had she experienced such overt charisma.

She only noted the little girl who sat on a chair to his right when the Sun King turned his head to address her. “Odette, salue les visiteurs, je t’en prie.”

Princess Odette—of course!

Sarina remembered reading about her. At only six years old, she was considered the world’s youngest Evolved and the second most powerful clairvoyant after the Oracle, though the guys in charge of power classifications couldn’t decide whether she was an Empath or a Visionary. Regardless, it seemed as if the orphan girl had found a new home.

Hopefully, the presence of a preschool child meant that their host was genuinely well intentioned. But if not, then this whole deal had just reached a new level of totally messed up.

The girl gingerly slipped off her seat, clasping the full skirt of her blue silk dress with both her hands. As she pattered towards the new arrivals, Sarina noticed her tiny golden-clasped princess shoes.

Odette’s attention landed first on Tess, then darted over to Ace, whom she gave a passing glance. Something about what she saw in the rough and rugged Australian brought a small frown to her delicate face. Sunny drew her interest next and held it for an extended moment; she tilted her head and watched him with a finger pressed to her bottom lip.

What’s with all the scrutiny? Sarina wondered. She glanced around for Snow, but the pale girl had silently disappeared along with the page.

When the Princess’s eyes landed on Jasper, she smiled. The little girl stepped forward to take a few fingers of his hand into her own. As he held her attention for a full thirty seconds, no one spoke.

Still grasping Jasper’s fingers, the girl turned her eyes on Sarina. The little girl’s eyebrows hiked towards the ceiling and her tiny mouth formed a small “o.”

Sarina looked around uncomfortably, not sure if she had done something wrong.

“Do not be afraid,” the Sun King said in French-accented English. His voice carried across the length of the room in a way that simply demanded attention. “She only wants to get a feel for you.”

He sounded pleased, for some reason.

Princess Odette let go of Jasper’s fingers and grasped one of Sarina’s hands instead. The child gave the hand a downwards tug, then another, until Sarina took the hint and leaned over.

Odette raised her lips to Sarina’s ear. “Ange,” she whispered in the tiniest of voices.

Angel?

The little girl smiled, then turned to patter back to her seat with small ladylike steps.

Sarina was left feeling a little dazed, not quite sure what to make of this strange introduction. The others stared at her with questions written all over their faces, and Sunny’s mouth twisted into a pout.

“What does that word mean?” he whispered.

He heard that? Sarina was surprised that anyone other than her had been able to hear Odette’s whisper. Then she remembered the episode in the car when he’d tuned in to what the locals were saying about the traffic. He must have super-hearing or something.

“I don’t know,” Sarina lied. It just didn’t make any sense. Then she made a mental note not to whisper near the Sunny unless she wanted him to overhear.

“Magnifique,” the Sun King said, clapping his hands together. “Finally you bring me someone interesting!”

Sarina wondered if she should be concerned by the Lightshaper’s apparent interest in the new arrivals. She looked over at Jasper for direction, and while she detected no tension in his posture, there was a hint of surprise on his face.

“Sit, sit!” the Sun King commanded.

Ace pulled the hat from his head and ran a few fingers through his hair, then nodded to the others. As a group they headed towards the table, with Ace leading.

Princess Odette had already returned to the Sun King’s side and was saying something into his ear, her hand cupped around her mouth.

What’s with all the whispering? Sarina wondered. She looked over at Sunny.

“I hate that my French sucks,” the boy muttered.

Sarina turned her attention back to Princess. She was relieved to see that the little girl looked comfortable in the man’s presence, and her body language didn’t suggest that she was feigning it.

As Ace approached the Sun King on the way to an empty seat, he dipped a low bow. The Sun King nodded in acknowledgment. The others followed his example, with Jasper’s bow making his limbs look especially gangly. Sarina, last in line, felt a little silly when it was her turn, but she bowed anyway so she wouldn’t stand out.

“Louis,” Ace said, pronouncing his name Louie in the French way. He pulled out a chair across from the Lightshaper. “Thanks for having us.” “De rien. Now, will you please sit? Everyone, please! Ciro should bring dinner in a few moments. I presume you are all a little hungry from your travels, non?” Louis smiled, showing off teeth that were very white in contrast to his dark skin.

Ciro? Does he mean Colosso? Sarina wondered. It must be that Ciro was the Revoker’s real name, and that he and the Sun King were close enough friends to be on a personal-name basis. That would at least explain why the page hadn’t left like the others who used to be part of the court.

It would make sense for the Sun King to want to keep a Revoker close, Sarina rationalized. It would be a huge defensive advantage if a villain or the Covenant ever decided to attack the mansion. Revokers had the ability to cancel out the powers of others or make power use outright impossible. They were basically like a powers command center; nobody could do anything if a Revoker was nearby unless they had his say-so.

Odette climbed back onto her chair with the aid of a small footstool. There was another footstool beside a chair to the Sun King’s left, most likely for the dwarf.

Sarina and the other Nameless chose seats further down the table from the Sun King. Sarina made sure to claim the chair across from Jasper. She wanted to be near someone she could trust in case this evening took a turn for the worse. It wasn’t that she was uncomfortable, exactly; the near overwhelming beauty of the Sun King’s palace and radiant aura had a soothing effect.

But she still didn’t trust this whole deal.

“So the girl’s your main advisor now?” Ace asked, indicating towards the Princess’s chair position on the Sun King’s right.

“There is a saying about wisdom from the mouths of babes,” Louis replied, gracefully lacing his fingers together. “Have you heard it?”

Ace nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “I’ve never put much faith in those old wives tales.”

“Ciro’s here too, of course,” the Sun King pointed out, not seeming to have taken offense to the Aussie’s line of questioning. “I have little need of more personnel, especially now that things are getting complicated. But my court does still lack something.” He pursed his lips in contemplation, then continued. “An orchestra, maybe, or perhaps just a skilled composer. Ciro may be Italian, but he is no Jean-Baptiste Lully.”

He wheezed a laugh at his reference to the real King Louis’ famous court composer before turning his attention to Jasper.

“But here is an Englishman composer, brought right to my doorway. Correct?”

Jasper looked up in surprise, meeting the Sun King’s gaze just a little too eagerly. “I’m a composer, yeah. I’ve brought some samples, if you’d like to check them out. I could go grab them right now if you wanted?”

Sarina was surprised by her friend’s overly keen reaction. Sure, she knew Jasper was anxious to put his powers to work, and the Sun King certainly did have a certain undeniable charisma. But even so . . .

Before she could give it more thought, Ace clarified things. “Louis, you’re cheating,” he said. “No powers on my group. DJ, stop gawking at him.”

Sarina took the advice as her cue to tear her own gaze from the man. She had to invest some willpower to break her stare, though. Whatever power he’s got, it sure is compelling. She grasped the silver fork on her embroidered dinner napkin just to have something different to stare at.

She felt eyes on her and squinted across the table at Sunny, who’d taken the seat beside Jasper. Unlike everyone else, whose eyes were drawn to the Light Shaper like a magnet, Sunny only seemed to have eyes for her. He noticed her shift in attention and quickly glanced away.

Sheesh. Kiddie crush. The thought amused her.

“Yes, later, perhaps,” the Sun King said in answer to Jasper’s offer.  “But before that, I must insist on seeing the girl dance.”

Sarina’s eyebrows shot up. “What, now?” she asked incredulously.

“No, no, of course not. You just arrived,” the Sun King assured with utmost grace. “And the others are not arriving until later tonight or early tomorrow. We will wait until the morning, when we are all gathered.” He turned to Ace.  “We will need to know the extent of support she can provide.”

Sarina looked up at that, her eyes seeking Ace’s. He flashed her a lopsided grin that seemed a little on the apologetic side. But only a little.

So they wanted to use her power for their own purposes. That’s why the Nameless had to see for themselves that she could access her power before they’d consider taking her to Paris with them. The realization sunk in like a stone dropping through water.

“I don’t want to be rude, but just why are we here?” she asked no one in particular, her fingers absently tightening their grip on the silver fork.

“Because, mon chérie, we may very well be facing worldwide disaster in the near future,” the Sun King replied, all amiability and patience. “My good friends and I are meeting to discuss what we are going to do about it.”

And how you’re going to use me to do it, Sarina added silently.

She looked at Jasper and he met her gaze with a small smile—a smile that contained slightly less certainty than it used to have. Was this news to him, too?

Sure, she’d told him a hundred times over their chats that she wanted to use her powers, and apparently he’d set her up with an opportunity to do so.  She trusted his judgment, yes. But she still wasn’t sure about the others. She returned her attention to the Sun King. “Are you villains?”

She didn’t exactly have proof of that, but a few facts were starting to add up. Avoiding the Covenant. Hacking into computers. Keeping her in the dark about this gathering. She had to ask.

The Lightshaper looked her in the eye. “And by that, you are referring to fairytale villains, non?” He sighed and shook his head. “I have no love for the pop entertainment keeps promoting those silly ideas. Nobody is all good or all bad, regardless of how some list-maker classifies them. I mean, the ‘heroes’ just murdered Shanti, didn’t they? So you see, ‘hero’ is a word with little meaning now. It just means people who follow government orders, like the Gestapo. Or the KGB. ”

Colosso entered the reception room. “The white girl has been shown to her quarters, and dinner shall be served in a few moments,” he announced in his strangely sonorous voice, then toddled out the door.

“Merci, Ciro,” the Sun King called after him before returning his attention to Sarina. “Now what was I saying? Oh, mais oui. None of us wish anyone harm, I assure you. Everyone in this room wants to do what they believe in their hearts is right.”

Sarina let that sink in. She wasn’t entirely convinced, but she didn’t want to rush to the door, either. Especially not without Jasper and the two kids.

“So if you’re not villains, you’ll let me leave here anytime I want?”

“Naturellement,” the Lightshaper responded. “I’m a Frenchman, a firm believer in freedom. But I hope that, out of respect for the hospitality I have shown you, you will at least stay until tomorrow. My friends will have come a long way to see you dance.”

The Princess, Sunny, and Jasper were all looking back at her with pleading eyes.

“Okay,” she finally agreed.

Princess Odette clapped her little hands in glee, and the Sun King smiled. He didn’t seem surprised by her agreement.

When she looked over at Jasper again, he made his index and middle fingers form a victory sign against the edge of the table. It wasn’t much, but it was reassuring. She made a mental note to pull him aside after dinner. She had a million questions that needed answering.
 

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7 thoughts on “2.5

  1. I’m not perfectly happy with the way this chapter ends, but here it is. The next one, 2.6, will end the second arc and lead up to a bonus interlude.

    If you enjoyed the chapter, thanks for clicking to make the author happy! I can’t afford to write full time, so I do it when I come home from a 12 hour day instead of hobbies or a social life. Your votes make all the effort worthwhile.

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=anathema

  2. First. I always wanted to do that.

    Don’t worry about the ending chrysalis, this chapter moved things along answered some questions and left us asking more so overall it was good.

    Quick question, that comment “no one thought cops and robbers games that put innocent people at risk were cool”, was that a jab at the web serial Worm and how the heroes vs villains conflict was often portrayed as cops and robbers?

    So, is Sunny’s power that he can listen to TV and radio waves?

    Anyway, good chapter. This talk about a worldwide disaster seems really interesting and I’m looking forward to more of it.

    • I don’t jab at Worm. I love it, and it inspired me to write Anathema. 😉

      It was more a reference to my tagline – “those comic books were lying about superpowers”. I know that some superhero fiction is pretty dark as well and doesn’t do the cops and robbers thing. But there’s also plenty of fiction that accepts the existence of villains, and creates special prisons for them (for instance Magneto’s specialized prison cell).

      I want to handle the hero vs villain conflict a bit differently.

      The worldwide disaster was already mentioned in chapter 1.5, from a different perspective.

  3. A few notes:

    “An ally, kinda. You get to know a whole bunch of people travellin‘ around like we are.” –> Who is speaking here? It might be a good idea to specify who is doing the talking.

    “a set of in ear headphones” –> in-ear

    “The way he sat there – one arm sprawled out over the seat, watching her with a sparkle of good-natured cheekiness –” –> Once again, when you want to use a dash instead of a comma, you have to use the em (long) dashes: —

    “Tessdrove silently,” –> Tess drove

    “discussing their current location with whoever had answered his call.” –> whomever

    “What’s what Aussies call us Englishmen,” –> That’s

    “Ace’s nod as the decisionmaking guy” –> decision-making

    “The others are gonna be more late,” –> later

    “The house’s interior” –> That sounds weird. I’d use ‘The interior of the house’.

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