Anja and Hans trailed Mikel by a step or two as the mage led the way higher up the tower. They spoke quietly, though Anja thought Mikel’s apparent deafness a little suspicious.
“Is it going well?” she said.
“I think we turned it around.”
“How much did you tell them?”
“No more than they needed to know, milady,” said Hans. He glanced furtively from side to side and asked, “Do you have it?”
Anja watched Mikel for some sign of surprise, but he remained as studiously unhearing as he’d been before. “Hans,” she said at length, “I’m not going to lose it.”
“Never hurts being careful,” he retorted. “Did you sleep well?”
“How could I but, after the last few days? Did you? Have you eaten?”
“I’ve been arranging things with the Guild since we got here,” Hans admitted. “There’ll be time for me once we’ve settled you in.”
“You’ve already done more than enough,” she said, expecting Hans’ blush. He made no reply, and she had nothing else to say, so they continued the walk in silence.
Anja was beginning to realize just how much the spiraling hallway inflated distances. The trip seemed to take an inordinate amount of time, and Anja thought it was probably best that she and Hans had stopped talking. She would concede that Mikel Skräskyddsling had proven to be an ally, and apparently one with discretion as well, but she did not trust him quite so far as to reveal much more than the fact that there was more to reveal.
She also noticed that some of the mages—the more experienced ones, if age was any indication—were aware of her presence and something of the reason for it. Most of those they passed stole glances; some openly stared.
Finally they came to a door, which Mikel held for Anja. He stopped Hans with a hand to the chest, saying, “Alone.”
The door swung shut behind Anja, and she looked at each of the Septumvirate in turn as she took a few confident steps to the center of the room. “Masters,” she ventured.
“Anja Grevdarsdottir,” said the speaker. “We must confess that your arrival here was a surprise. Even so, we are glad your journey was safe.”
Anja was surprised, and realized she looked it too. “Well, thank you,” she covered, thinking that Hans had certainly been truthful when he said he’d told them only what he had to. If there was one thing Anja could claim to know, it was that a safe arrival did not necessarily mean a safe journey.
“You are a guest,” the speaker said, evidently guessing wrong at the cause of Anja’s surprise, “and we are bound to concern ourselves with your well-being, regardless of whether or not we were prepared to receive you.” Anja smiled uncertainly. “However, we do have our own interests to look after. To that end we have a few questions for you. First: you have obviously manifested some talent with magic—” there was a snort from one of the seven, and Anja also thought it was a bit of an understatement “—and such manifestations are rarely isolated events. Can you—”
“Stop wasting our time,” another of the Septumvirate interjected. The hoods they wore concealed their faces, but to Anja’s ear the voice sounded old—it had a quality of crackling paper to it, but nevertheless retained a steely edge. “Tell us, girl, what you did to the draug.”
With a theatrical flourish, Anja withdrew her hand from her pocket. She opened it palm-up, revealing a small, smooth stone, and spoke with a voice which carried authority well beyond her years: “Show yourself.”