Sneak peek: The Elm Stone Saga

The Elm Stone Saga
By Shayla Morgansen

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BOOK ONE: CHOSEN

Prologue

Chosen ebook.jpgThe late autumn night was crisp and cool. A brisk wind sliced through the dying trees in the garden, relieving them of their burden of dead brown leaves. The darkness in the marbled courtyard was broken only by the soft, haunting candlelight glowing in the large ring of lanterns. Thirteen white-robed adult figures stood in a circle within this enchanted ring.

Tonight, in this Connecticut home’s courtyard, the government of the magical world, the White Elm council, had been called to an emergency meeting by their leader, an old, white-haired man whom they, along with the rest of their world, called Lord Gawain. He stood as part of the circle, and wore a royal purple sash over his white robes, as did the middle-aged black woman to his right, and beyond her was a tall, attractive man wearing an emerald green sash.

‘Blessed be,’ Lord Gawain began in his commanding voice. The twelve sorcerers responded, and a murmur of Blessed be resonated around the courtyard and into the surrounding gardens. ‘Firstly, our thanks to Susannah, who has provided us tonight with her beautiful yard as a venue for this last-minute conference.’

‘Never a problem, Lord Gawain,’ a 40-something American sorceress replied with a smile. Her wavy brown hair was clipped back from her fresh, pleasant face and her manicured hands, although obviously freezing, were ungloved and open, relaxed at her sides.

‘As a sign of honesty and purity, all members of White Elm traditionally keep their faces and hands uncovered,’ Lord Gawain said, beginning the meeting. Two of the twelve pairs of candle-bright eyes dropped from Lord Gawain’s face and two pairs of hands quickly appeared from underneath robes, and he knew, but he continued as if he hadn’t noticed. ‘This is one of many traditions we as a government have upheld for hundreds of years to ensure peace within the White Elm body.’

The council was silent. Lord Gawain continued.

‘I apologise for the surprise meeting, but, as always in history, the White Elm has dutifully responded to their leader’s call, knowing that I would only break the cycle for a great emergency. I am grateful for your faith. Your loyalty to your leaders, your adherence to the council’s ancient code and your purity of spirit prove to the world your worthiness of ruling the magical people. Few other councils would gather so quickly at their leader’s bidding.’

A couple of sorcerers smiled at their leader’s sentiment.

‘So, when you felt my call, where were you, Lady Miranda?’ Lord Gawain asked his co-leader, the 55-year-old black sorceress to his right.

‘Finishing my shift at the hospital,’ she answered smoothly, her British accent sharp.

‘Lisandro?’

The attractive man on Lady Miranda’s right blinked through his long, loose black hair at his Lord’s word.

‘With a woman,’ he answered simply, in his New York accent. No one asked for details.

‘Qasim?’ Lord Gawain asked of the next man in the circle, the imposing Saudi.

‘Reading to my children,’ Qasim answered.

The White Elm immediately continued answering in the order Lord Gawain had been questioning – highest ranked to lowest – and most answered with honesty. However, the massive African American Jackson cast his vision down for a tiny instant and blinked a few times too many.

‘Asleep,’ he said. Lord Gawain felt the flicker of nervousness in the air, which accompanies a lie, and knew otherwise, but kept quiet. He needed to be sure of the others.

The stick-thin Russian woman next in the circle glanced oddly at Jackson, having felt the same flicker, before speaking.

‘Meditating,’ she murmured honestly.

‘Asleep.’ Tian still looked tired.

‘Reading the paper,’ Peter said, too quickly.

He is the second puppet, Lord Gawain thought. Who is their master?

Emmanuelle, a beautiful French sorceress, admitted to being on a date. She blushed a little, but she wasn’t lying. The youngest, the handsome and mysterious Renatus, spoke last.

‘I was scrying,’ he said. His violet eyes flickered to Lord Gawain.

A few other members of White Elm shared subtle ominous looks. They didn’t trust Renatus. But Lord Gawain understood the very young man’s meaning. After all, it was on Renatus’s advice that he had called this council.

Peter and Jackson are traitors, Master, Renatus had said hours earlier, confirming Lord Gawain’s already strong suspicions. Lady Miranda agreed. Now they only had to find the third traitor, the leader. But whoever it was had covered his or her lies so well that even Lord Gawain, Lady Miranda and Renatus couldn’t work out who it was.

Lord Gawain had known for some time that a rival force was forming elsewhere. Rumours of black magic beyond that which the White Elm could imagine; whispers of a powerful leader no one could actually name. Similar little tales popped up every now and then, and usually died down, but these murmurings were persistent and becoming louder. Most disturbing was the realisation that this apparent rival group (if it existed) was said to be led by a member of White Elm.

‘Three of you are lying,’ Lord Gawain said after a minute of absolute silence. Two sparks of nervousness flickered briefly in the circle. Who is the third? ‘There can be no lies in this council. Peter, Jackson, why are you lying?’

‘I’m not,’ they both lied at once.

‘Where were you both before this council was called?’ Lady Miranda barked, startling them both.

‘Sleeping,’ Jackson answered, keeping his eyes firmly focussed on Lady Miranda’s face. Clever. He didn’t want to give in to instinct and glance at his leader.

‘Sleeping,’ Peter agreed. The circle was silent.

‘You said before you were reading a newspaper,’ Emmanuelle said softly, staring at Peter. The young Scotsman met her eyes fearfully. They were friends – they had bonded when they had been admitted into the council at the same time. Now it seemed that bond – and Emmanuelle’s trust – was crumbling.

‘I’m sorry, Em,’ Peter whispered.

‘Why would you lie?’ she asked. The others watched. ‘You know our oaths – we may never lie here. You wouldn’t break those oaths, Peter. You wouldn’t.’

‘But he has,’ Lord Gawain reminded Emmanuelle. He turned back to Peter. ‘That’s not the only oath he’s broken, either, is it?’

Peter stared back at him for a long moment, like a deer caught in headlights.

‘Peter?’ Emmanuelle prompted. Her voice broke his frightened paralysis.

‘No,’ he said shakily.

‘What have you done?’

‘I-’

‘Peter.’ Jackson’s warning tone had more than a hint of menace, and even though Lord Gawain was quite sure that Jackson wasn’t capable of instigating this situation, it was clear to him how the hierarchy worked. Peter was at the bottom, just along for the ride – and he knew why.

‘Peter, you know I have to ask for it back,’ Lord Gawain said to the youngest traitor. Peter’s mouth tightened and his hand clenched. ‘It needs to change hands.’

‘Peter, don’t be weak,’ Jackson spoke up. ‘You knew this day was coming. You told us so.’

Us. Proof that there was at least one more, although Lord Gawain had been near-certain already.

‘Seeing a future event and living it are quite different,’ Peter threw back. He chanced a look sideways at Emmanuelle. ‘Living it, it doesn’t feel like I thought it would.’

‘You mean getting us both caught out isn’t the thrill you thought it would be?’ Jackson asked snidely. ‘Maybe if you weren’t such a crappy liar. There are no points for honesty now, matey. Ship’s sailed.’

‘Jackson, I think it’s time you stopped talking,’ Susannah snapped. ‘What have you both done?’

‘They have broken sacred oaths to this council by lying, and further by devoting themselves to a second power – a rival,’ Lord Gawain said, not allowing his sadness into his voice. ‘Is this true?’

‘I…It’s…’ Peter stammered, looking desperately to Jackson, but the older American didn’t seem to care.

‘Yeah, alright, it’s true,’ he said, laughing suddenly as though surprising himself. He’d always been odd, the sort of character who laughs at all the wrong moments, and some kind of head injury seven or eight years ago had exacerbated his unbecoming traits. Luckily for him, this had roughly coincided with the council’s discovery of Renatus, and in their collective efforts to dislike him even more, the councillors had seemed to readily accept the damaged Jackson. Their narrow-sighted mistake, obviously. Now they shook their heads and stared in disbelief, disgust and shock as Jackson laughed again, louder, and continued.

‘It’s true! We’ve lied, cheated, sold secrets, all the things we promised not to do. And? So what? We’re finished with you. We’re leaving this sorry council. We’ve found a higher calling; our values and ideals just don’t fit in here. The White Elm is out dated and ridiculous. Your time is up.’

Jackson, still laughing, pulled his wand from his robes. Immediately, eleven wands were pointed at him.

‘Drop it,’ Anouk warned as she backed away from him.

‘Drop it,’ Jackson mocked. He took a step towards her, in the process of casting a strong stunning spell at the Russian, but Fate intervened: his toe caught on an uneven tile in Susannah’s paved courtyard and he stumbled, looking down for just an instant. Anouk took that instant to deflect his spell straight back at him, knocking him to the ground without a fight.

‘I thought you were trained better than that, Jackson,’ she growled, advancing, but Lady Miranda moved forward and caught her arm.

‘Leave him, he’s harmless,’ she said. She looked around at the now-disorganised circle. ‘Who has done this to him? Whose lust for power? Speak, whoever you are. Your cowardice is pathetic.’

‘There were only two liars, that I detected,’ Lisandro said to Lord Gawain, leaning behind the high priestess and observing the council quietly. ‘The leader has covered his tracks. Boy!’ He motioned to Peter, who miserably came forth. Lisandro was known for his natural charisma and interrogation skills. The fact that he was the only witch in the world legally allowed to study and practise dark magic probably wasn’t helping Peter’s level of confidence. ‘Who is your leader, Peter?’

‘Lord Gawain,’ Peter said dutifully, but his eyes revealed his difficulty. He felt bad. He felt guilty. The guilty were the easiest to break.

‘Your other leader – the one you’ve betrayed Lord Gawain for.’

‘I…I can’t say. I’m sorry.’

‘You must know what I’m going to do if you don’t choose now to speak up,’ Lisandro said, and Peter nodded.

‘I understand. I’ll submit to your questioning, but you won’t get anything from me.’ He shot a final look at his French friend, whose bright blue eyes were filled with tears. ‘I am sorry.’

‘Take the ring off and put it on the ground in front of you.’

Peter knelt and did as he was told, removing the White Elm’s weapon from his hand and placing it gently before him. Lisandro touched his wand to Peter’s temple. For a moment nothing happened. Then the younger man screamed in unexpected pain and clenched his fists against his knees as Lisandro’s presence entered his brain, forcing dark magic against his resolve.

‘Stop it! You’re ‘urting him! Stop!’ Emmanuelle begged, but she did not attempt to interfere, possibly understanding that this was Lisandro’s job; this was what he had been trained for.

‘Why does he hide from us? Why does he not come forth?’ Lisandro drilled. Lord Gawain and Lady Miranda stepped forth to stand at the shoulders of their colleague, subtly transferring their own power slowly into Lisandro. Peter looked more fearful. The others stood back in silence, except for the few who bound Jackson.

‘He is not afraid,’ Peter muttered monotonously. ‘He says… He mocks you even now with your deep trust in him. He says it’s pathetic. His victory grows greater with each moment that passes with your faith. I’m sorry, I’m sorry…’

So the hidden traitor was a man. This was not particularly useful information, as only four of the council’s thirteen members were not men. At least, however, it excluded Susannah, Anouk and Emmanuelle – Lord Gawain knew already that it could not have been Lady Miranda, the person he trusted most in the world.

Well, he trusted everybody present, but two had been proven unworthy of that trust, and one other remained to be discovered.

‘And who is he?’ Lisandro asked of Peter, his voice and his applied magic twisting together into a threat only Peter could feel.

‘I will never tell,’ Peter said loudly, closing his eyes resolutely. Many of the others were now slowly pouring their own energy into Lisandro’s interrogation and Peter was becoming overwhelmed. Lord Gawain let his magical senses probe the garden. Why was Renatus not helping? It couldn’t be him…he’s too young…

‘You will tell me,’ Lisandro murmured, his bronze-coloured eyes getting brighter with power.

‘I won’t, I won’t!’ Peter cried tearfully, clearly in pain. He was completely unable to physically resist the increasing power of the strongest witches in the world being forced into his mind.

‘Fine. Then where were you before this council was called?’ Lisandro demanded, mentally and magically pushing against Peter’s resolve, now trying another angle, seeking the weakest point.

‘With him. Jackson and I were with him, planning…’

‘And who is he?’

‘No…’ Peter choked on a breath and began coughing pitifully.

‘You will tell me. Do you remember who I am?’

‘Yes,’ Peter mumbled, sobbing. ‘L-Lisandro, Dark Keeper of the White Elm.’

‘That’s right. And you will tell me the name of your leader.’

Lord Gawain felt his power draining but kept it up. This was vital information. When Peter finally gave in and told, Lord Gawain would be too weakened to pose as an immediate threat to anyone with full power. But even if it proved to be Renatus, at least Lisandro would be able to overpower him. Maybe. Lord Gawain could not imagine who on his beloved council would betray him, and though he trusted the young man with the dark family tree, he could not believe it of any of the others, either. Unfortunately, despite his deep trust, it seemed one more of them had betrayed the White Elm, and that person could arguably be anyone other than Lady Miranda and Lisandro.

Though it killed him to admit it, that person could very easily be Renatus.

‘You will tell me now,’ Lisandro said forcefully, punctuating his final word with a strong mental push against Peter’s determination that even Lord Gawain felt.

‘NO!’ Peter screamed, his features twitching with his mental strain. ‘I can’t! I won’t. He’ll kill me if I do!’

Lisandro removed his wand from Peter’s forehead and all energy transfers ended. Peter collapsed. Emmanuelle sank to her knees at Renatus’s feet and hid her face in her hands, sobbing. A few weakened White Elm stumbled or sat down. None had expected Lisandro to use so much of their energy.

‘You are incredibly loyal,’ Lisandro said, brushing some of his long black hair from his face and looking down at the twitching Peter with something close to admiration. He turned to Lord Gawain. ‘Any more would have killed him.’

‘Any more would have killed everyone else here, too,’ Renatus said. Everyone ignored him. He was the prime suspect.

‘I’m sorry…You’ll kill me…I won’t…’ Peter mumbled, twitching violently.

‘And you got nothing from him?’ Lord Gawain asked Lisandro, trying not to sound too disappointed. ‘You couldn’t dig deeper?’

‘I could get nothing. I probably could have dug deeper – but not legally or safely. There’d be nothing left of his mind.’ The attractive American frowned and lowered his voice, adding, ‘As it is, I may have overdone it.’

‘I won’t…I won’t…Never tell…You’ll kill me…’ Peter whispered, his voice dropping away as his consciousness slipped.

Lisandro glanced back to Peter and shook his head, looking amused. ‘Like I said, he’s incredibly loyal.’

‘To you,’ Renatus said sharply. Lisandro turned to the much younger man. Lord Gawain glanced between them, their physical similarities appearing to him, not for the first time. The black hair worn long, the pale complexions, the tall and slim build, the strong air of unbelievable power and potential… But now he saw something else – the conviction in Renatus’s eyes.

And Lisandro looked…surprised. Not offended, but just surprised.

No…That isn’t possible…

‘That’s right, to me,’ Lisandro agreed. Long moments of silence followed. Everyone stared in absolute shock. Lisandro eyed Renatus over. ‘I never really liked you, Renatus. You always know more than you should.’

Lisandro? No…No, he couldn’t. Not the White Elm Dark Keeper. Not Lisandro…

‘Why?’ Lady Miranda said finally.

‘Because he’s the same as the rest of his family,’ Lisandro said, still eyeing Renatus with mild distaste. Lady Miranda frowned.

‘Why would you turn Jackson and Peter against us? Against their oaths?’

Lisandro sighed.

‘This council has become outdated, and it’s occurred to me on numerous occasions over the last few years that it might be time for us to upgrade,’ he said, as if discussing his requirement for a new phone. ‘Just think about it a minute – the magical community is fast losing faith in the White Elm. We haven’t had the popularity we once did in a very long time. This council was never voted in; the power it holds is false. It is time for a newer model I’m afraid. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Give the people the choice between what they’ve known and what could be. The White Elm has become obsolete, and Magnus Moira is the future. Peter and Jackson see what I see and want to create the same future for our world.’

‘Magnus Moira?’ Qasim repeated sceptically. Others in the group looked as though Lisandro’s words were swaying their judgement, but Qasim was difficult to manipulate.

‘It’s just a name,’ Lisandro answered casually. ‘A sort of club. Everything sounds more legitimate when you give it a name. Our people deserve an alternative option to the White Elm, and I’m ready to provide that. Jackson and Peter are VIP members, but you’re all invited to join, too. This council is a sinking ship. I’m offering you all a life raft. There would be some serious reshuffling of ranks and responsibilities,’ he conceded, glancing at Lord Gawain, ‘but I’m certain I could find spots for everyone. Even you,’ he added to Renatus.

‘I’ll pass,’ Renatus replied coldly.

‘If this isn’t a bad thing, why didn’t you share earlier?’ Elijah asked of Lisandro. ‘Why the secrecy and sneaking about?’

‘Most of you weren’t ready – still aren’t.’ Lisandro elegantly brushed some of his long hair away from his face. ‘This has come out a lot earlier than I’d hoped. Peter wasn’t ready, obviously – look what’s happened to him. I didn’t want that happening to the rest of you. I felt you needed more time to be able to understand.’

‘Understand what, exactly?’ Lady Miranda demanded, her voice harsh. She was clearly upset.

‘That the time has come to let the White Elm dwindle to its natural end, and to start afresh.’

‘We don’t know anything about your “fresh” council. Why would we want to give up on what works to follow you into the unknown?’ Glen asked reasonably.

‘Well, you could trust me, but it sounds like you need something more convincing than that,’ Lisandro said. ‘First of all, I’m not really seeing Magnus Moira as a council. A council of thirteen takes too long to get anything done. I’m seeing a totally different structuring.’

‘You see you in charge,’ Lady Miranda guessed.

‘Well, obviously. It wouldn’t be much fun otherwise.’

The council members glanced amongst each other quietly, uncertain.

‘What happens if we aren’t interested in your proposal?’ Susannah asked finally.

‘The council will fall, whether you’re in it or out,’ Lisandro said. ‘I’m not really fussed. I won’t take it personally; neither should you.’

‘You want to end the White Elm?’ Qasim asked, still the sceptic.

‘Yes. And I will. Slowly and decisively, I will bring this council to the ground, where it belongs, under the foundations of the new government – Magnus Moira. Or more precisely, me.’

Lisandro is an enemy. He led Jackson and Peter to betray us…

‘Is this a power grab, Lisandro?’ Lord Gawain asked, letting his devastation show. How could the leader be Lisandro? Lord Gawain himself had elected Lisandro to the chair of Dark Keeper – the White Elm’s secret weapon against uprisings of sorcerers illegally using dark magic. They had worked side-by-side for eleven years now. How could Lisandro have kept his intentions so well hidden?

‘Partly, yes.’

‘You are the third-highest ranking member of the magical world’s government. You hold the most honoured and trusted position in the world.’

‘I hold a position that is secret outside of this council,’ Lisandro responded coldly. ‘No one else even knows that the Dark Keeper exists. To any sorcerer on the street I’m just another White Elm idiot.’

‘Why do you need recognition, Lisandro? Isn’t it enough that we trust you so highly?’ Lord Gawain asked. Lisandro…why you?

‘Your trust amuses me,’ Lisandro answered. He looked around. ‘You’ve revealed me as a traitor and a rival – as the manipulator of Jackson and Peter – and yet none of you have your wands out. No one is prepared to attack me. Your trust is so innate and leaves you exposed and vulnerable.’

A few White Elm raised their wands. Lisandro laughed.

‘I speak and you all move – so predictable.’

‘You tortured him…’ Tian said, staring at Peter, who had now fallen unconscious, fingers curling around the power ring he’d been trusted to protect for them. They’d have to grab that back before Lisandro tried to get it. ‘Though he was your friend and supporter, you tortured him. How can we expect any different if we follow you?’

‘I needed to test his loyalty. I had no idea he was so dependable,’ Lisandro commented. He clapped his hands once. ‘So, who’s coming with me?’

The council members glanced at one another again, and Lord Gawain felt his heart thudding in his chest. How many of his councillors were his and how many could be swayed by Lisandro’s easy charm?

‘None of us,’ Qasim said finally, apparently speaking for the group. ‘We are White Elm. We swore oaths to this council, and unlike some, we have the honour to hold to those oaths.’

Lisandro lifted his chin slightly as the other councillors nodded firmly, encouraged by Qasim’s strong words. Lord Gawain felt himself relax. Lisandro was not the most powerful force here, after all.

‘Well, you had your chance,’ Lisandro said with a shrug. ‘I’m sorry it has to end like this. You should know by now that nothing stands between me and what I want, so please make the effort to not be obstacles. I’d hate to have to kill any of you.’

‘Don’t be melodramatic,’ Lady Miranda scoffed.

Emmanuelle started pulling herself together.

‘Lisandro destroyed Peter,’ she accused, struggling to stand. Her foot caught the hem of her robe and she stumbled. Renatus grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her to her feet, but he continued watching Lisandro. ‘It wouldn’t bother ‘im to ‘urt any of us.’

You nearly destroyed him,’ Lisandro replied carelessly. ‘His friendship for you was weakening his resolve. If he’d given in I would have killed him.’

‘Lisandro…What went wrong with you?’ Lord Gawain asked. He was really struggling to understand why this was happening.

‘Honestly? You, Gawain. You are what went wrong with me. Watch out, kid,’ he added to Renatus, before turning back to Lord Gawain. ‘You, my friend, my mentor, my leader, are responsible for anything I do henceforth, because you failed me in the exact moments I needed you not to. Think back: you remember the moments, the times I needed something and you ignored me.’

‘Your needs were selfish,’ Lord Gawain rebuked, thinking of one such time quite easily but having difficulty recalling any more.

‘Maybe so, but I’ve noticed that the world is ready for a change, and realised that I could be it. It’s a very empowering feeling.’

‘What will you do now?’

‘Destroy you. Bit by bit.’

At the opposite side of the dismantled circle, the energy levels spiked as someone relinquished their self-control and anger burst forth.

‘You deceitful monster!’ Emmanuelle screamed, her usually smooth blonde hair ruffled. ‘How dare you? How dare you ruin this council, after all it ‘as gained you? How dare you destroy Peter?’ She continued ranting in furious French and started forward as though to attack her friend’s manipulator, but Renatus caught her and held her back. Glen hurried to Renatus to help restrain her.

‘I think that’s my cue to leave,’ Lisandro said cheerfully. He tapped Peter’s motionless form with his wand and the young Scot disappeared, displaced.

Lord Gawain froze mid-step – the Elm Stone! Why hadn’t he bothered to look into the future to see this coming? He’d been so focussed on the events unfolding in the now and now the ring, the White Elm’s greatest source of emergency power was gone!

‘No! Bring ‘im back!’ Emmanuelle cried, fighting against those who restrained her. Renatus held her tightly, his face expressionless, while Glen transferred soothing energy to her. It wasn’t working.

‘Someone needs to shut that little girl up,’ Lisandro commented, waving his wand in her direction; she dropped as though dead, but Renatus was quick to catch her before she hit the ground. An automatic check of her aura confirmed that she was alive and unharmed, just stunned. Lisandro smirked at Renatus. ‘Pretty girl, that one. Not as pretty as your sister was, though.’

In an instant Renatus had released Emmanuelle and shouted an ancient-sounding word. A bolt of too-fast misty blue energy ripped through the air, aimed at Lisandro’s green-sashed chest. Lisandro saw it coming. He dropped his wand.

The result of his unexpected spell was instant. With a deafening, unexplainable noise, the entire garden was shrouded in poisonous black smoke. The candle flames that had lit the space were immediately snuffed. The White Elm began coughing painfully as soon as they inhaled the smoke. It was toxic, constricting the throat and lungs in a way that normal smoke did not. Lord Gawain dropped to the ground, his lungs already desperate for air. He had no idea how to reverse this dark magic. That was Lisandro’s job as Dark Keeper, but no doubt Lisandro had displaced himself by now.

Because, impossibly, the council’s secret weapon had backfired and Lisandro had betrayed them.

‘What is this?’ Susannah asked, her voice forced.

‘I don’t know!’ Lady Miranda said, coughing and sounding lost.

‘It’s exhaust,’ Renatus said. His voice was calm and easy, his sudden anger of moments earlier lost. Lord Gawain looked around for him but the smoke stung his eyes. However, the smoke was thinning. Within a few seconds it was gone. Renatus was the only one standing, his wand out.

‘Exhaust?’ Lord Gawain asked, slowly standing and looking around. Sure enough, Lisandro, Peter and Jackson were gone. The other White Elm were getting to their feet.

‘It’s an old, old piece of dark magic,’ Renatus said smoothly. ‘It’s the negative energy left over after dark magical spells, turned physical. It’s called exhaust. Most of the time this energy dissipates but Lisandro obviously knows how to manipulate it into exhaust.’

‘How do you know this?’ Lady Miranda demanded, standing and pointing her wand at him threateningly. Renatus handed over his wand obligingly but didn’t answer. ‘Is it from your spell?’

‘Partly. Mostly your own energy you imparted to him-’

‘He’s done nothing wrong, Miranda,’ Lord Gawain said immediately. He knew Renatus’s family’s reputation, like everyone present, but now wasn’t the time to pretend it mattered. ‘We need to focus on Lisandro.’

Lisandro’s gone.

The Elm Stone’s gone.

Both weapons, and two other talented councillors, gone – lost in a matter of minutes. In this moment, there was no obvious course of action.