Eventually, light sidled back into the land. The wind faded and the remaining wildlife dispersed to its daylight activities. In the Tower corridors, cheerful music blared from somebody’s stereo, and some of the evacuees had already returned. Families that had tried desperately to hold back the night now eagerly cleaned up the debris left by the dawn.
Seth dodged a pair of children who would have otherwise barreled into him, then continued strolling down the corridor. He whistled a jaunty tune as he followed the widening corridor. The doors became larger, and paintings and digital windows decorated the walls between the doors. He stopped outside a pair of double doors, ancient and covered in ornate carvings.
He studied the doors and smirked. Then he ran his hands through his hair and all of the energy seemed to drain out of him. His shoulders slumped and he lost about an inch of height. With some effort, he twisted his face into what he imagined was a regretful expression. When he knocked on the door, it was a tentative, unwilling rap.
He intended on a performance perfect to the last detail.
“Enter,” called the Tanist.
He pushed open the door to her office. It was large and pleasant, dominated by a central desk across from both a chair and a couch. Huge, brilliant digital windows cast the illusion of sunlight into the room, imported from bright meadows where horses grazed.
The Tanist herself looked like she hadn’t slept yet. Her hair looked recently smoothed, but she had dark bags under her eyes, and a gauntness to her face. Perhaps it was only the artificial sunshine keeping her awake.
She narrowed her eyes. “What do you want?”
Seth lowered his gaze. “I came to apologize.” He scratched the scab on his cheek. “I shouldn’t have had that attitude with you. And I definitely shouldn’t have said that about Linc. You were right.”
She snorted. “Can the attitude. You’ve never been contrite in your life.”
A small smile returned to Seth’s face. “I still feel like I screwed up.”
“Yes, you did.”
Seth bowed his head and waited, the little smile still tugging his mouth.
“Did your father make you come and do this?” Seth shrugged, and the Tanist continued, “I didn’t think he had it in him.”
Seth pitched his voice in a parody of his father’s. “It’s time for me to grow up, stop acting like a child.”
Sharply, the Tanist said, “He’s right. We’re entering hard times, kid. Playing games could get us all killed.”
“But it can be so hard to tell!” Seth ducked his head. “Oops. Sorry about that. I don’t have a lot of experience watching my mouth. My nose gets in the way.”
She gave him a long stare that plainly said she wasn’t buying it, and he shifted awkwardly before dropping into the chair.
“You can’t make up for the damage you’ve done with just an apology,” she said sternly. “If we’d caught the Echthroi the other day, things would be much better now.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Seth said meekly.
She blew out her breath. “You haven’t lost anybody close yet, have you?”
He leaned back in the chair. “Nope. Mom’s brother died when I was a kid, but Granddad’s still on deep patrol with the Prowlers, far as I know.”
“And what are you going to do, when your classmates start to fail and scatter and die?”
“Were you and Linc classmates?” asked Seth, interestedly.
She paused, apparently considering her answer, before settling on a simple “Yes.” Tapping a stylus on the desk, she frowned at Seth. “Whether or not you believe you have any responsibility for your actions, you do. And I’m going to make you understand that.”
He widened his eyes. “Really?” He leaned forward and confided, “It doesn’t come up much at home.”
“I can imagine,” said the Tanist dryly.
“Dad and Natalie get along pretty well, so he focuses on her. And Mom’s pretty busy with the kids. So I have to figure things out on my own. I’ve done my best but I guess maybe it’s not so good.” Seth radiated earnestness.
“Paying attention to your sister’s example is, of course, impossible.” Her voice could have dehydrated a rain forest.
Seth shrugged. “Hey, I gotta be me. Ma’am.”
A silence stretched out, in which she looked at him, her stylus forgotten in her hand, and he looked back at her, doing his best not to smile.
“You’ve got guts, kid. And as much potential as your sister. It’s a shame your father is so determined to neglect it.”
“I agree,” said Seth carefully.
“I’m sure you do.” She stared at him another long moment. “Now and then it’s worth my while to mentor a promising student. I’m thinking that may be the only way to keep you out of trouble.”
“If anyone could keep me out of trouble, ma’am, I’m sure it’d be you.” He gave the Tanist a quick, assessing look, then added, “But I think a mentor would probably cramp my style. Maybe a raincheck?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Tough luck, kid. Because I think a mentorship is exactly how you’re going to avoid being kicked to the curb. We’ll meet at least once a week, and you’ll start attending all the meetings you’ve been neglecting to attend so far.”
Seth sighed heavily. “Fine. You’re the boss.” But under his drawn brows, his eyes glittered with triumph.
The Tanist placed her hands together and leaned forward. “Yes. I am.” Then, deliberately. “Now, let’s talk about Jehane, and how we can utilize her to find the Echthroi.”
The smile lingering on Seth’s face grew wider. “Of course.”
“Excuse me, Tanist,” said Elian’s voice from the wall. “I can tell you’re busy, but I have interesting news I’m sure you want to hear right away.
The Tanist startled, pushing herself away from the desk. “Elian! Wha— Right. Yes, what is it?”
“You know how all the other towers have been hibernating for centuries? One of them just woke up.”