laden with heavy rings that almost sang with the sleeping power of the spirits within. Even in that enormous room, the power of Banage’s spirits filled the air. But over it all, hanging so heavy it weighed even on Miranda’s own rings, was the press of Banage’s will, iron and immovable and completely in command. Normally, Miranda found the inscrutable, uncompromising power comforting, a firm foundation that could never be shaken. Tonight, however, she was beginning to understand how a small spirit feels when a Great Spirit singles it out.

Banage cleared his throat, and Miranda realized she had stopped. She gathered her wits and quickly made her way across the polished floor, stopping midway to give the traditional bow with her ringed fingers touching her forehead. When she straightened, Banage flicked his eyes to the straight-backed chair that had been set out in front of his desk. Miranda nodded and walked forward, her slippered feet quiet as snow on the cold stone as she crossed the wide, empty floor and took a seat.

“So,” Banage said, “it is true. You have taken a Great Spirit.”

Miranda flinched. This wasn’t the greeting she’d expected. “Yes, Master Banage,” she said. “I wrote as much in the report I sent ahead. You received it, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did,” Banage said. “But reading such a story and hearing the truth of it from your own spirits is quite a different matter.”

Miranda’s head shot up, and the bitterness in her voice shocked even her. “Is that why you had me arrested?”

“Partially.” Banage sighed and looked down. “You need to appreciate the position we’re in, Miranda.” He reached across his desk and picked up a scroll covered in wax seals. “Do you know what this is?”

Miranda shook her head.

“It’s a petition,” Banage said, “signed by fifty-four of the eighty-nine active Tower Keepers. They are demanding you stand before the Court to explain your actions in Mellinor.”

“What of my actions needs explaining?” Miranda said, more loudly than she’d meant to.

Banage gave her a withering look. “You were sent to Mellinor with a specific mission: to apprehend Monpress and bring him to Zarin. Instead, here you are, empty-handed, riding a wave of rumor that, not only did you work together with the thief you were sent to catch, but you took the treasure of Mellinor for yourself. Rumors you confirmed in your own report. Did you really think you could just ride back into Zarin with a Great Spirit sleeping under your skin and not be questioned?”

“Well, yes,” Miranda said. “Master Banage, I saved Mellinor, all of it, its people, its king, everything. If you read my report, you know that already. I didn’t catch Monpress, true, but while he’s a scoundrel and a black mark on the name of wizards everywhere, he’s not evil. Greedy and irresponsible, maybe, and certainly someone who needs to be brought to justice, but he’s nothing on an Enslaver. I don’t think anyone could argue that defeating Renaud and saving the Great Spirit of Mellinor were less important than stopping Eli Monpress from stealing some money.”

Banage lowered his head and began to rub his temples. “Spoken like a true Spiritualist,” he said. “But you’re missing the point, Miranda. This isn’t about not catching Monpress. He didn’t get that bounty by being easy to corner. This is about how you acted in Mellinor. Or, rather, how the world saw your actions.”

He stared at her, waiting for something, but Miranda had no idea what. Seeing that this was going nowhere, Banage sighed and stood, walking over to the tall window behind his desk to gaze down at the sprawling city below. “Days before your report arrived,” he said, “perhaps before you’d even confronted Renaud, rumors were flying about the Spiritualist who’d teamed up with Eli Monpress. The stories were everywhere, spreading down every trade route and growing worse with every telling. That you sold out the king, or murdered him yourself. That Monpress was actually in league with the Spirit Court from the beginning, that we were the ones profiting from his crimes.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” Miranda scoffed. “Surely-”

“I agree,” Banage said and nodded. “But it doesn’t stop people from thinking what they want to think.” He turned around. “You know as well as I do that the Tower Keepers are a bunch of old biddies whose primary concern is staying on top of their local politics. They care about whatever king or lord rules the land their tower is on, not catching Eli or any affairs in Zarin.”

“Exactly,” Miranda said. “So how do my actions in Mellinor have anything to do with some Tower Keeper a thousand miles away?”

“Monpress is news everywhere,” Banage said dourly. “His exploits are entertainment far and wide, which is why we wanted him brought to heel in the first place. Now your name is wrapped up in it, too, and the Tower Keepers are angry. Way they see it, you’ve shamed the Spirit Court, and, through it, themselves. These are not people who take shame lightly, Miranda.”

“But that’s absurd!” Miranda cried.

“Of course it is,” Banage said. “But for all they’re isolated out in the countryside, the Tower Keepers are the only voting members of the Spirit Court. If they vote to have you stand trial and explain yourself, there’s nothing I can do but make sure you’re there.”

“So that’s it then?” Miranda said, clenching her hands. “I’m to stand trial for what, saving a kingdom?”

Banage sighed. “The formal charge is that you did willfully and in full denial of your duties work together with a known thief to destabilize Mellinor in order to seize its Great Spirit for yourself.”

Miranda’s face went scarlet. “I received Mellinor through an act of desperation to save his life!”

“I’m certain you did,” Banage said. “The charge is impossible. You might be a powerful wizard, but even you couldn’t hold a Great Spirit against its will.”

The calm in Banage’s voice made her want to strangle him. “If you know it’s impossible, why are we going through with the trial?”

“Because we have no choice,” Banage answered. “This is a perfectly legal trial brought about through the proper channels. Anything I did to try and stop it would be seen as favoritism toward you, something I’m no doubt already being accused of by having you brought to my office rather than thrown in a cell.”

Miranda looked away. She was so angry she could barely think. Across the room, Banage took a deep breath. “Miranda,” he said, “I know how offensive this is to you, but you need to stay calm. If you lose this trial and they find you guilty of betraying your oaths, you could be stripped of your rank, your position as a Spiritualist, even your rings. Too much is at stake here to throw it away on anger and pride.”

Miranda clenched her jaw. “May I at least see the formal petition?”

Banage held the scroll out. Miranda stood and took it, letting the weight of the seals at the bottom unroll the paper for her. The charge was as Banage had said, written in tall letters across the top. She grimaced and flicked her eyes to the middle of the page where the signatures began, scanning the names in the hope she would see someone she could appeal to. If she was actually going to stand trial, she would need allies in the stands. However, when she reached the bottom of the list, where the originator of the petition signed his name, her vision blurred with rage at the extravagant signature sprawled across the entire bottom left corner.

“Grenith Hern?”

“He is the head of the Tower Keepers,” Banage said. “It isn’t unreasonable that he should represent them in-”

Grenith Hern?” She was almost shouting now. “The man who has made a career out of hating you? Who blames you for stealing the office of Rector out from under him? He’s the one responsible for this ‘fair and legal’ accusation?”

“Enough, Miranda.” Banage’s voice was cold and sharp.

Miranda blew past the warning. “You know he’s doing this only to discredit you!”

Of course I know,” Banage hissed, standing up to meet her eyes. “But I am not above the law, and neither are you. We must obey the edicts of the Court, which means that when a Spiritualist receives a summons to stand before the Court, no matter who signed it or why, she goes. End of discussion.”

Miranda threw the petition on his desk. “I will not go and stand there while that man spreads lies about me! He will say anything to get what he wants. You know half the names on that paper wouldn’t be there if Hern hadn’t been whispering in their ears!”


She flinched at the incredible anger in his voice, but she did not back down. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Banage sank back into his chair and put his head in his hands, looking for once not like the

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