Serafina Valeon shifted from foot to foot, watching Bastian pacing up and down as her wings swished back and forth. She, Bastian and Niall, stood outside the entrance to the Ashran’s meeting chamber. She couldn’t imagine why her father had called them all there – even Layard had been invited.
But Layard had yet to arrive.
“What do you think he wants?” Bas asked, pacing the length of the tunnel.
Sera shrugged, tucking a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. “I have no idea. Maybe he’s come around to the idea of an alliance.”
Niall snorted. “Yeah, and maybe fey and mages might all become best friends.” He pulled his long dark hair into a ponytail. “I can’t believe we aren’t allowed to take weapons with us to this meeting. We’ll be sitting ducks if anything goes wrong.”
“We’re all friends,” she pointed out. “It is tradition that no one is allowed to bring weapons in. Plus, this is a big step for themby even allowing a meeting with mages. You can’t blame them for being cautious.”
“Yeah, but that’s us. Not everyone will think the same.” Bas wrapped an arm around Sera’s shoulders, his fingers caressing her long wings. “I agree with Niall about the weapons, though. I don’t like the idea of being unarmed.”
“I can’t think of any other reason why he would call us here.” Sera shrugged Bas off and tried to ignore the look of hurt on his face. “Since Li and I left, we haven’t heard from him. Except for when he came to help Bas save me after I was drugged a few days ago. We’ll be safe in there. My father won’t let the others outright try to hurt either you or Niall.”
“Or maybe he’s decided to kill all us mages,” Niall mused.
She shook her head. “He wouldn’t do that.” Alward had helped Bas find her and save her life a few days earlier, so she doubted her father would suddenly turn on Bas and their friends.
“He’s done it before,” Niall remarked. “And we all know he doesn’t like Layard since he’s the one who cut off Alward’s wings.”
“He was a hunter and he was just following orders,” Bas said, glancing down the tunnel.
“So were we and we never did that.” Niall pulled out his data tab, looking at the screen then putting it away again. “You do have an escape plan if this all goes wrong, don’t you?”
“Yeah, we open the lines and get the hell out of here,” Bas answered.
“How’s Liana by the way?” Niall asked Sera.
Sera shrugged. “As well as can be expected,” she said, making a mental note to go and check on her foster sister after the meeting was over.
Sera cast her senses out. Even though there were no doors to the meeting chamber, Alward had warded it so that no one could listen in on the meeting, she tried anyway. Yet the ward held firm and she heard nothing of the conversation. Damn, she wanted to listen and find out what Alward had planned. They’d been waiting for almost an hour and she could tell the others were getting restless.
Layard himself appeared in flash of light – and much to everyone’s relief, he had remembered to put on trousers and a shirt. “Have I missed anything?” he asked.
“A whole lot of waiting around,” Bas grumbled. “Any idea why we’re here?”
Layard scratched his shaggy beard. “Because Alward invited us.”
Sera bit back a smile. The air around them changed, no longer humming with energy and she knew the ward was down. “We can go in now.” She hurried off, eager to see her father again.
The great crystalline walls gleamed as she hurried into the meeting hall. Alward sat at the head of a long table made from a similar dark crystal. His long blonde hair fell in a braid past his shoulders and his silver eyes scanned the room as he sat with the other three leaders of the Ashran council. Sera took in the faces of the other leaders, noticing none of them looked very happy at the sight of three mages walking into the room. It felt good to seeing her father again.
Alward rose. “Thank you all for coming,” he said. “We called you here to discuss the looming threat of war and persecution from the mage high council.”
Sera’s wings drooped in disappointment. She had hoped for a warmer welcome. But this was Alward, leader of the Ashran resistance – he wouldn’t act like her father in front of them. He wouldn’t show any emotion in front of the others.
Bas wrapped an arm around her and squeezed her shoulders to comfort her.
I’m alright, she told him. This is more important than my feelings.
Layard followed in behind Bas and Niall and the other fey in the room all tensed.
“Please sit.” Alward motioned and four stools made from crystal that appeared in front of the table. Sera sat between Bas and Layard.
“As you are all aware, the threat of war is looming once again and as a race we still haven’t recovered from last one,” said Alward. “The mages outnumber us ten to one. Nor do we have the resources to win a war. If they attack us again, we will face extinction. The Ashran’s goal has always been to remain in the shadows and fight against oppression with secrecy and infiltration. We have never taken on the mages directly.”
“Nor do we have the resources to,” Raiel, a redheaded fey said. “We can’t take the mage forces on. We’d all rather die than give them the kind of dominance they crave.”
“Now we have the demons to worry about too,” said Sisandra, another female leader. “The mages have a formidable new force to wipe us out with and we have no idea how they managed that.”
“With their unnatural magic and technology no doubt,” said Cedric, the fourth leader.
This is going to be fun. Sera stifled a sigh with a cough. Already the old prejudices shone through. All the fey apart from Alward stared at Bas, Niall and Layard, the only mages in the room, with contempt.
“So, what did you call us here for then?” Bas got straight to the point. “Since we mages are so bad and all.”
Bas. Sera gave him a look. Diplomacy had never been his strong point.
What? he asked her in thought.
She only rolled her eyes in response.
“Because for once our interests are aligned.” Alward steepled his fingers. “We need to find a way to stop the demons and the council before they destroy us all. We propose that we work together on this.”
Layard snorted. “Mages and fey working together. Wonders never cease.”
“Maybe you should reveal what you know about the demons,” Alward challenged him. “We both know you have more knowledge of them than anyone.”
Layard scowled. “I know as much as anyone.”
“We’ve learned that through mining Trinium the mages somehow broke through into the netherworld,” Sera spoke up.
“Of course the mages were responsible,” Cedric scoffed. “The idea of an alliance with these hunted outcasts is a waste of time.”
“Even if mages caused the problem, they’ve got themselves in way over their heads,” Bas snapped. “If we don’t find a way to seal the rift, both races will be wiped out not just Ithereals.”
“Why should we believe you?” Sithandra demanded. “Your family has hunted us for centuries.”
“In case you hadn’t heard, they’re hunting all of us now including Bas and Niall,” Sera replied. “Maybe we should stop blaming each other and figure out a way of working together.” She thought she saw a ghost of a smile on her father’s face, but it soon vanished.
“Trinium seems to repel demons from what we’ve learnt so far,” said Layard. “Perhaps that is the key to sealing the rift.”
“But melting down all the Trinium and shoving it back into the earth won’t do much good,” Niall remarked.
Sera fell silent while everyone continued to argue over the best way to deal with the council and the demon threat.
She reached into her pocket and felt the keystone there. It vibrated between her fingers. Something didn’t feel right. She could feel it in the air but couldn’t name the sensation. The conversation drifted around her but she didn’t take any of it in as she tried to figure out what the warning meant.
Her senses tingled as the lines activated. Bas grabbed her arm, pulling her to the floor with him as a strike came at them and exploded against the wall behind them. Sera hit the floor, hard, looking up to see a band of hunters swarming into the cavern. All of the men started firing strikes at them.
No weapons were permitted during meetings so none of the team or the fey were armed. Instead, she, Bas and Layard hurled strikes and energy blasts back at them. The Ashran representatives ducked under the table all except for Alward who leapt up and returned fire. One hunter hit the floor. Then another.
Sera dodged a strike as she took to the air, her wings spread as she hovered and blasted one hunter after another. She spotted Niall setting a small crystal on the table. He was the only one – aside from the other fey – who wasn’t taking part in the fight. What are you doing? she asked him in thought.
Trying something that might save us, he replied. The crystal turned a deep neon blue before a burst of energy reverberated through the air, shaking and knocking everyone to the ground.
Sera screamed as she lost balance, plummeting towards the ground. At the last second her wings found velocity again. She flapped them, hovering mere inches from the cavern floor and let out a breath. Around her everyone lay still, even the hunters.
“Bas!” She landed beside him, relieved to find a strong pulse at his throat. She moved around checking the others for injuries. They were stunned but uninjured. Alward rose first, power flaring in his hand as he prepared to strike the fallen hunters.
“Wait!” Sera hurried over and grabbed his arm. “Maybe you should question them. We could find out what the council’s next move is.”
Alward’s jaw tightened. “Fine. Take them away for questioning,” he said when some of the guards came running in.
“No doubt the others will be quick to blame us for this,” Bas muttered as he scrambled up.
“It will take time to move past old prejudices,” said Sera. “At least the other Ashran leaders are willing to try.”