CHAPTER TWELVE: WARD (3/4)

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The Kirina was just as peaceful as Sol remembered it, with its warm breeze and fragrant air—though there was no time to enjoy it. No sooner had they stepped through the arch than they quickly came to a stop.

Ephera and the four Consuls of the Noble Order were standing in a line, waiting for them.

"Grand Master Ephera," said Ofana. "How nice of you to welcome us home in person."

"You and your sister entered the human world without the Order's permission," said Ephera.

"Your permission was not required," said Ifrita. "We went on the Emperor's instructions."

"The Emperor is not above the law. Any and all visitors to the human world must undergo the proper training and be fully sanctioned by the Noble Order."

"And yet we did what all your mighty Warlocks could not," said Ofana. "The Nempus Kala is safe and accounted for, as is the human who was kidnapped by one of your own, and as for detective Goone..." Ofana smiled as she reached into her pocket and produced the three large black marbles.

"You captured him?" said Taraj.

"Him and his two accomplices," said Ifrita. "It turns out Goone was being assisted by another of your detectives."

"Who?" asked Ephera.

"Kito Sun."

"Detective Sun?" said Mahjin. The name seemed to wound him. "I trained Kito myself. She wouldn't betray the Order."

"You might want to ask her about the second accomplice before you draw that conclusion," said Ofana. "She was keeping a Goblin as a pet."

Mahjin's mouth fell open.

"Kito sheltering a Goblin?" said Endrekh. "I don't believe it."

"It's no lie," said Ifrita. "The creature put me to sleep."

"And why are so sure Kito was keeping it?" asked Rukh.

"We captured them all in an island fortress not far from detective Sun's home," said Ofana. "Of course, if you really don't believe us, I can show you them right now..."

"No," snapped Ephera. "The Kirina is a sacred place. I will not allow a Goblin to see it. Give them to me." She held out her hand.

Ofana held onto the black orbs for a long moment before eventually tipping them into Ephera's palm. "They are your prisoners; we have no desire to keep them. The Emperor, however, desires that Solomon return with us."

Ephera stored the black marbles in a pouch of her own and shook her head. "Solomon will return with us to the Citadel."

"It is the Emperor's wish that goes to the Palace."

"Then the Emperor can continue to wish. He has no authority over a human."

"Neither do you," said Ifrita, her voice chilled.

"You have no authority over me. He will stay at the Citadel."

"He will come to the Palace."

"Is anybody gonna ask what I want?" Sol said. All turned to him.

"What do you want, Solomon?' asked Ephera in a suddenly gentle voice.

"I want to go home."

Ephera shook her head. "The human world is not—"

"Not New York; my home here—the one Pan Magal left me. I'm fed up of being dragged around from one place to another without any say in it. I have a house; I want to go there."

Ephera thought on this for a long moment before replying. "And how will you get there?"

"What do you mean?" Sol asked.

"How will you get to this house of yours?"

"I... I don't know."

"The only way to get there is through an arch, and I will not permit you to travel through one. It is also clear that you must be protected, and as much as I appreciate why you may want to return to your home, you will simply not be safe there. You will be safe at the Citadel."

"He'll be safer at the Palace," said Ofana.

Ephera ignored her. "At the Citadel, you will have the protection of the finest Warlocks in the Noble Order."

"But not the finest in the Empire," said Ifrita. "Those reside at the Palace."

Ephera ignored her, too. "Even if you go to the Palace, you will only have to return tomorrow, anyway."

"Why?" Sol asked.

"To be a witness in Goone's trial. Stay one night. If you don't feel comfortable or safe, you won't be a prisoner. You'll be free to go to the Palace if that's your wish. Stay one night."

Sol looked from Ephera to the Emperor's daughters like he was trying to come to a decision, but there was no way he was about to accompany Ofana and Ifrita back to the Palace. If he couldn't go to his own home, there was only one choice left to him.

"I'll stay at the Citadel," he said.

"Good," said Ephera, and she turned to address the daughters, failing to hide the small victorious smile playing on her lips. "You may both go, but I expect to see you at the trial tomorrow."

Ofana and Ifrita nodded.

"We wouldn't miss it for the Empire," said Ofana.

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