Ajax woke from a light doze when Rohan wandered into the infirmary. He eyed the other boy silently until Rohan settled in the chair previously vacated by Kwan.
“How are you feeling?” Rohan asked, his voice cautiously friendly.
Ajax relaxed. “About how you’d imagine.”
Rohan shifted awkwardly. “I’m glad you’re alive. It sounds like it was pretty messed up out there.” He sighed. “They’re having another meeting. An endless meeting. No students allowed.”
Elian said, “I’m there, though. I’m everywhere.” There was a wry humanity in his voice Ajax didn’t hear around the adults. “Most of it has been a recap of what you experienced firsthand, Ajax, and what you already heard from Rose and Kotone, Rohan. And now they’re talking about what to do next.”
Ajax sat up. “And what’s that going to be?”
Elian was quiet, presumably listening. Rohan leaned his arm on the side of the chair and stared at the light sculpture overhead, and Ajax wondered if Rohan had been prodded into visiting him by Elian. They’d been so close before, and since Elian’s… transition… Rohan had been strange and quiet, not at all social.
“Another tower has come to life,” said Elian, in a distracted voice. “It was harder to notice than the first one, because of the noise of the first one. Until it opened a portal, without any transmitter.”
“That makes sense,” said Ajax. “When the other tower turned up empty, they had to go somewhere. I didn’t see that big bastard of a lightning-tailed Cambion out in the city with the others. If he’s at another tower, that must be how they managed to escape.”
“You say that so blithely,” said Elian. “But only because you have no idea how challenging that escape was, as described. My best theory is that there’s something in the connection between Cambion and creator that substituted for a transmitter. But that must have–”
Ajax held up a hand. “I don’t want to know! You tell me too much, how can I go on with my blithe theorizing? The important part is that this tower must be where Natalie is.”
Elian said, “Do you think so?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
Elian hesitated. “Seth thinks, if she’s alive, she’s being tortured into insanity.”
Rohan said, “So? Big deal. If we know where she is, we can just rescue her, right?”
“Like we rescued Aya? They’ve already talked about Natalie as a casualty and moved on.”
Incredulously, Rohan said, “Even Jake?”
“Jake isn’t there. Jake is spending time with the rest of his family, at the urgent recommendation of the rest of the Council. And I’ve been instructed not to let any of them out.”
Ajax remembered his fight with Hatherly. “Natalie broke— or at least damaged— the machine that was putting everybody to sleep and making us strong. But I think he must have some other advantage. Maybe from being Echthros? Because I was only competitive against him because of the machine, and he… kicked my ass. And then when the machine went down, he… wasn’t affected at all. He didn’t lose anything.” Ajax rubbed his ribs and his handcuff clanked.
“Oh, right,” said Rohan. “I didn’t just come by to say hi.” He pulled out a little plastic sleeve full of bits of metal. “Let me get that.”
“Thank you for not breaking the bed,” added Elian.
Ajax eyed Rohan’s tousled head thoughtfully as the boy set to work over the handcuff. There was something going on there. Elian wasn’t happy with the decisions of the Council, and he was the bodiless god of the Tower now. And Rohan seemed quite willing to be Elian’s hands. Maybe this could be useful.
“Elian, is there any discussion about replacing the Tanist? She’s not like a Queen, is she? Can’t there be a recall or… or an impeachment or something? She clearly can’t cope. When does her term end?”
Elian’s voice trembled in a laugh. “No term. A Tanist serves until he or she retires, steps down or is replaced by a formal election. And organizing a real election is a pain in the ass. The true population of the Guardians is scattered all over both Earth and the land beyond the Tower.”
Ajax frowned. “What happens if she dies?” Rohan gave him a look and he raised his free hand. “Just a procedural question.”
“Then there’s a temporary Tanist appointed by the Council until a real election is organized. Sometimes it takes months and months.”
Rohan said, “This is an ugly situation, but it isn’t actually her fault.” The handcuff clicked open.
Ajax shook off the cuff. “This is.”
“That’s hardly a reason to replace her. There are lots of other things she could do with you. Exile to the land beyond the Tower. They take you out in one of the vehicles, give you a pack, and drop you off alone in the middle of nowhere. And nobody ever talks to you again.”
Ajax gave Rohan a quick smile. “And yet here you are, picking the lock. Would you talk to me, Rohan?”
Rohan looked away. “That’s not the point.”
“All right. That’s fine. Well, my point is, if she’s going to treat me like an enemy, I’m going to act like one.”
Rohan’s fingers clenched on the lockpick. “What does that mean?”
“I’m not going to run around attacking people, don’t worry. I’m just going to make my own plans. And you and Elian are going to help me, aren’t you? We need to get stronger, focus more, figure out Hatherly’s new plan, thwart it, and…” Ajax took a deep breath. “And get Natalie back.”
Because it hurts so much not to have her around to ignore. I’m just as much of an idiot as my mother, aren’t I?