Chapter Seventeen

Explanations; Insinuations 

After Vico left, Jayen flung himself down on the chair, tossing a sullen eye around the room. “I can’t believe I’m stuck here with you,” he grumbled. 

“So leave already. It’s not like I’m super thrilled either.”

“I can’t do that, Vico would kill me. It’s been hard enough just getting him to talk to me lately.” He regarded her with resentment. “I don’t understand why he’d fall all over himself for you after you abandoned him like that.”

She slouched, looking away. “You must have done something to hurt him too. I felt how upset he was when you were arguing in front of the cafe the other day.”

“You shut the hell up. Do you know how messed up he was after you disappeared? Your mother had just been killed by the Uprisers, and the town was a war zone! Everyone thought you were dead. I was the one who kept him from self destructing, so don’t you dare talk to me about what I might have done. I could never do anything as terrible as severing him without a word the way you did.” 

Seya closed her eyes, wishing she could just block out the memory of that terrible day. She said, “That’s what you were so angry about the other day? I thought you were just being jealous.” Her voice was level enough that Jayen did not notice the distress that edged the words—but he wouldn’t have anyway, in his anger. 

“Of course I’m angry about it! You put him through all that and then you show up on his doorstep to sponge off him like nothing happened? I’m surprised he didn’t straight up murder you! I know I wanted to!”

“I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but that’s not how it happened. I came back to see Winter. I wouldn’t even still be here if Vico hadn’t come looking for me himself.”

“Which means you weren’t even planning to see him again!” 

“Why are you even madder about that? Make up your damn mind.”

He swore some more, mostly under his breath, getting to his feet and stalking around the tiny living room and kitchen. “Gods, I hate this place,” he said, finally sitting back down. “It’s like being suffocated, it’s so small.”

He had burned off enough of his anger that the hurt was creeping through. Seya didn’t want any of his; she had enough of her own. She curled up on her side and tried to block him out, but the ensuing silence was even worse. “What happened?” she asked.

“He didn’t tell you?”

“He didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Good, it’s none of your damn business.” He hunched over in his chair, chin on his fists, glaring at the carpet. “What do you care anyway?”

“I care about Vico.”

“Funny way of showing it, severing him and vanishing for a decade. Where the hell were you, anyway?”

“That’s none of your damn business.”

He shot her a dark look.

“Look, let’s just agree that we are both the worst and that we’re lucky Vico ever put up with us,” she said. 

The corners of his lips turned down resentfully, but he didn’t deny it. He looked away, hurt flashing in his eyes. “Said he wasn’t happy,” he muttered. “Tired of people not taking him seriously because he was with me. Like he’s not smarter than everyone else on my crew! It’s not my fault everyone blames him because of his gods damned family.”

“And you clearly took that really well,” she said.

“Well, he made it sound like he didn’t trust me to take care of him! Like I wouldn’t do anything for him. He said didn’t want me to do anything for him, he wanted to be able to do things for himself, which is ridiculous, considering his position, and anyway, we’re all clan, so what does it matter? I’ll eventually be the head of the whole damn thing, so it’ll be like I’m taking care of everyone anyway. But he didn’t want to hear that. We ended up shouted at each other for a while and I thought that would be the end of it, but then he just unloaded on me all at once, a bunch of crap about my temper and my work ethic and all this other stuff, like he’d been collecting it for the occasion. I asked him why he was still with me if I was such a gods damned train wreck, and he gave me this look, like he’d just given up trying, and then he just—left. Got himself transferred to mediation, stayed with that idiot friend of his from the L&R department until he got this place. We didn’t talk for weeks, not until that factory of Vetiver’s blew out and we ended up having to work together.”

“Vico told me about that earlier. He said it was bad.”

“Yeah, it was. A hundred and thirty-seven people died. Lines all over town were wrecked for weeks. Lot of all nighters just to keep up with repairs. Anyway, I all but begged him to come back, but he wasn’t having it. Said we should start over as friends. He didn’t mean it though, because I never see him outside work anymore. I’ve been working my ass off trying to prove I’m not the monumental screwup he and everyone else sees me as, but now he actually wants something from me, and it’s just to look after you,” Jayen said bitterly. “All that effort and he just accepts the person who left him a complete wreck for months back like it’s nothing! He didn’t even tell me you were back, I had to bribe it out of my secretary!”

“He probably just didn’t want to get in trouble,” Seya said. “Wait, if he didn’t tell you, then how did Corin know I was staying with him?”

“I don’t know, probably guessed. You two were too close for that not to have been an option. ”

“Or maybe someone was already watching him.”

Jayen slouched a little. “That’s possible. Vico’s never done anything to be suspicious of, and he works a hell of a lot harder than everyone else, too, but that doesn’t mean anything. The high tier still gets worked up about that Sancerre crap. It wasn’t as bad when we worked together in security, but now—” He looked away, frustration flickering in his aura. “He won’t let me do anything about it.”

“If he only joined the clan because you two were together, and then you weren’t anymore, it’d make sense for the higher ups to be suspicious, I guess,” Seya said, curling her lip in disgust at the idea. She knew exactly how Vico felt about the Sancerre. But he had once felt the same about the Malthusius, too. “How did that even happen? I can’t believe Corin would even have allowed it, much less the high tier.”

“We still take duel judgments seriously,” Jayen said, shooting her an offended scowl.

She looked at him incredulously. “He challenged someone for the right to join?”

“No, he wouldn’t have asked to join Malthusius. I was the one who made the challenge.”

“You dueled for him to be admitted? Who did you have to fight, the whole damn high tier?” 

“Dad.”

“And you won?” Seya was impressed despite herself. Corin was no joke as a duelist. 

“I wasn’t trying to lose,” Jayen snapped. “Dad had hardly spoken to me after I brought Vico to live with me at my mother’s place. Said I was dishonoring the clan. I would have had to duel him over that anyway, so I thought I might as well try to get something out of it myself. They were going to strip me of my status if I lost and throw me out of the whole damn clan if I lost by too big a margin. Even after they made that the condition, Dad didn’t hold back at all.”

“What was the margin?”

“It was pretty damn close,” Jayen admitted. “Formal rules, but we did it at the compound, not the public arena.”

“How long ago was this?” Seya asked.

“Just after I turned eighteen.”

“Eight years? That’s a little long term for a gambit,” she mused. “I would have expected something to happen before now if that was the case. Was there a vote? Who all agreed to the terms?” 

“What are you getting at? You think one of our people is trying to start something? We’d know, Seya, Dad takes our bond too seriously to let something like that pass.”

“I know how clan politics go. With Vico’s history, it’d be easy to use him as a pawn. And bonds don’t always work the way they’re supposed to,” she said, clenching her left hand. “There are ways around the restrictions.”

“That’s crap,” Jayen retorted. “Dad would never have agreed to it if he had thought they were just trying to stage a coup or destabilize the clan.”

“You can’t be this naive,” she said. 

“I’m not naive. I know there’s a power struggle going on, and I’m still only heir-presumptive, and barely that in the eyes of half the clan, and I have a long road ahead to prove I can manage things. I know there are people on the high tier who’d like to see me fail, so they can get their hands on the power themselves. But they’re doing that for the good of the clan, and for Starling. It’s only right that I have to prove myself. You’ve always hated the Malthusius. You let that color your perceptions about us.”

“Are you going to blame me for that? I didn’t ask to be hounded for half my life by your father just because of this defective mess of magic I was born with. Or harassed by the people in the clan who didn’t approve of my bond with Vico, either. ”

Jayen’s gaze shifted, his expression flattening with something that felt a bit like shame. “I’ll be the first to admit none of us did right by you or him growing up, but we aren’t some pack of power-tripping thugs. We survived the restructuring. Our bond is strong, and everything we do is for the good of this town. You can say what you like about me—I know I’m a screwup—but I won’t let you talk shit about our people. Things aren’t the same now. You’d know that if you’d ever given us half a chance. Dad—he hasn’t said anything, but I know he feels bad about what he did the other day.” He fidgeted for a moment, staring at the floor, jaw working. Finally he muttered, with visible reluctance, “You should talk to him at least once.”

“Corin is beyond chances for me. And maybe things have changed, maybe they haven’t, but either way, you’ve definitely got a thug problem. Tor was over there at Halcyon harassing Montreides and his foster, so maybe you ought to keep that high-minded opinion of your people down to a realistic level.”

“There’s one in every group. Tor’s an ass. Everyone knows it,” he said. “And he was only over there because of you.”

“Maybe that day he was, but the way Montreides reacted it seemed like it was a regular occurrence.”

Jayen frowned at her. “I gave him a warning yesterday. He’s always been a loose cannon, but he’s gotten worse lately, I think. Can’t have him making us look bad when things are so messy right now. I’ll make sure Landen keeps a closer eye on him from now on. You should let me know immediately if he or anyone else comes around harassing you or Vico. I won’t stand for that crap—makes us all look bad.” 

She raised her eyebrows at him. “You almost sound like a grown up when you talk like that.” 

“I’m not a gods damned kid!”

“And there’s the Jayen we all love to hate.”

“You said you didn’t hate me though.”

“Don’t take what I said under the influence of pain wards as an endorsement of your character.”

His gaze slid away from her, back around the confines of the small apartment. He seemed on the cusp of saying something else, but then he withdrew into himself, brooding. 

Seya picked up a book from the end table and flipped through it for a while, not paying much attention to the words, until she finally dozed off.

 

Vico was glad when they arrived at Bretinne and he had a good excuse to put aside his frustrating tangle of thoughts in favor of something he was sure about. He greeted Cheritt and Kallesian, the co-leaders of the Bretinne Farming Co-op; between them and the three other Talese immigrants who comprised the co-op, they owned a good chunk of farmland north and west of the city, all bought within the last five years from Talbot and the handful of other small clans and private farmers who had been drifting away in the economic upheaval following the restructuring. The Bretinne folk had come on the heels of similar unrest in the Isles, leaving the highly industrialized landscape of Talesanne to get back to their farming roots, and they took the stewardship of the land very seriously. Corin had had hoped that would prove a deterrent to the purists, but instead there had been rumblings against foreigners owning and laying down unfamiliar Isle magics on Caldi soil, since the Talese were not really given overmuch to spiritual magics. 

It was a stupid argument, in Vico’s opinion. Seya’s mother had been a priestess, a caldi, the title given to one who devoted their magic to the maintenance of all Caldona’s spiritual resonance, without tying themselves to a single god or temple, and he had learned a great deal about Caldi spirituality from her. He did not have high spiritual levels despite being awakened early to that aspect of his magic, but he had always been good at discerning resonances. The Talese might not be as tuned into spiritual magics as Caldi farmers, but they had made every effort to comply with the traditions of their new home without compromising their own methods. Their land was far from unsettled. None of the priests or government mages who had been out over the various legal setbacks had found anything objectionable either, but this had done nothing to deter the purists’ objections. 

The factory itself was being built to facilitate the business side of their considerable investment, packaging and preserving the farms’ produce, which would then be distributed through Malthusius’ business connections. Vico found it hypocritical to say the least that the Bretinne folk had managed to be there, farming and selling for four and half years without objection, until they had been approached to affiliate with Malthusius. 

L&R’s second crew leader Duvall and the rest of his mages, Lejan included, were already at the factory, preparing for the installation. Micah wandered off to look over the security precautions one more time, since he had nothing to do with the installation or the inspection itself. The inspector arrived a few minutes later, as Vico was going over the spellwork with Duvall, who, in Vico’s opinion, was being rather condescending about it, probably because of the difference in their levels. Vico listened dutifully but without much interest, having been over every line of every charm and sigil of the ‘works as well as the engineering specs for the machinery in his spare time for the last few months. He was glad when Duvall ceded the duty of attending the inspection to Lejan and went off with the rest of the crew to get back to the installation preparations. 

Lejan ended up trailing along behind them, since it became clear early on Vico was not going to have any problem explaining even the most complex details of the spellwork or its implementation in the polarity engines that ran the works to Walsh, even as he was busy translating the more difficult Caldi terminology for Cheritt and Kallesian. Vico had a personal interest in Talese automagic. The power and efficiency of it was fascinating, as much for the intellectual exercise behind such complicated spellwork as the fact that the levels of the mages who created it had less to do with its power than knowledge and ingenuity. 

The polarity engines that ran the machinery held his particular enthusiasm. He had made a study of the blueprints and spellwork for them, until he knew every part of it as well as the mages who had designed them, in some cases better than the mages from the L&R department. His enthusiasm as he explained the workings to Walsh was infectious. She was as enthralled by the clever way the deliberately opposing reactions of the polar elements of water and fire created a particularly potent energy to feed the written spellwork that ran the machinery. 

“It must be quite dangerous, though,” she said.

“It can be, of course, just like any big, complex magic,” Vico said. “But there are safeguards written into the ‘works to draw off the excess power to route it to the wards around the premises, creating a loop that prevents any energy from escaping. As you can see from the diagrams here, the spellwork will run along this channel in the floor here, the tiles are already etched and waiting to be approved for installation, over here…” They went over the spellwork with meticulous care, and then she looked over the area in the center of the building where the fire elemental was to be seated. That would be installed last. Corin would have to do it himself, as the elemental fire that made up half of the Malthusius’ bond seat was too strong and volatile for anyone but the bondmaster to handle. They could have nurtured and seated a new elemental far more easily, but Corin had spent a great deal of time, effort and money on the venture, and preferred to remain in control of the energy he was going to be providing as much as possible.

From there they moved on to the functions of the factory; the cannery was fairly straightforward, the energy connections to run the machinery the only spellwork to verify. The preservatory was more complex. It was a new technique that had not yet taken off in Caldona, though it had become popular in the Isles over the last decade. He and Walsh went over the magic for that in minute detail, Walsh marking down notes about the methods of transferring the properties of the cold charms on the assembly line into the produce in order to keep them fresher for travel than they would even in refrigeration, and it had proven more energy efficient in the long run than the cold-charmed trucks the Bretinne people had been hiring. He had Lejan help demonstrate the casting and effects, since it was a fairly new technique.

“This is extraordinary. I wonder why you bothered with the cannery section at all?” Walsh asked, looking up from where she was verifying the details of the sub clauses and connections of the spellwork against the diagrams.

“The decision was two-fold,” Vico said. “Firstly, these sorts of charms can be vulnerable to magical disruptions of certain sorts, the risk of which is negligible in the long term, but can be disruptive in the short term, while canned goods are rather more stable. The other reason is that these sorts of preservatories require a much higher level of involvement in the maintenance of the spellwork, and that reduces eligibility in the workforce. We’ve seen the issues that arise in other counties when large portions of unbonded workers are left jobless because they do not have the skill set to break into that type of work. Our cannery spellwork has been streamlined to reduce the necessity of higher-level mages but we still needs hands and eyes to keep things running smoothly.”

“I wouldn’t have expected the Malthusius to care for such trivialities,” Walsh commented. Vico gave her a perfunctory smile. It had been a long and tedious argument with the high tier at the beginning of the negotiations, but it was an issue that both Vico and the hard working farmers of Bretinne felt strongly about; the latter had come from a country that was currently suffering the pains of advancing industrialization, and Vico was quite cognizant of just how hard it was to break into the ranks of the advanced mages of a clan even with the requisite skills.

By the time they were done with the works, Walsh had made plenty of notes and Vico had practically talked himself hoarse explaining the finer points of the spellwork. They took a short break for refreshment. Cheritt and Kallesian went upstairs to the office to get the paperwork ready. Walsh lingered by in the break area, sipping iced tea and musing over her notes. “You must have worked closely with the mages to have such a good grasp of these workings, for a mediator.”

Vico forced a laugh. “No, actually, I just went over the specs for the last three weeks. I do have a background in written magic, though. From Halcyon.”

Walsh’s eyebrows went up. 

“I’ve petitioned to be transferred to L&R. It’s quite competitive, though,” Vico said, keeping his smile and his tone light.

“I expect you’ll get there,” Lejan said, then turned to Walsh. “He helped me a great deal when I first came to Caldona. The spiritual magic, you know.”

Which led to a short conversation about the differences in magic between cultures as Lejan explained the elemental ties the Malachai used instead of bonds in securing their lines. Vico listened with half an ear; he knew all of it already. Eventually Micah rejoined them, and they went to the tables set up in the entrance to discuss the security precautions.

Vico spread out the ward diagrams as Micah explained. “Three layers of wards, in respect to the strength of the spellwork and the energy levels,” he said. “Seated in the walls here, of course, and in the concrete paths that circle the lines outside, and then a duel-layered warding for the fences…” 

Walsh nodded in approval as she studied the spellwork. Then she went outside so she could check the seat of the wardings herself, her guidebook with all the requirement diagrams firmly in hand.

“Everything is going so smoothly,” Vico said, his enthusiasm slowly reasserting itself after that unpleasant blip in the conversation in the break room. “There are only the line connections left, then the paperwork.”

“Don’t get too relaxed there,” Micah said, nodding past him to the entranceway. 

Vico turned and gave a quiet groan. Malcolm Weyland stood in the open double doors, surveying the machinery visible from his vantage point with the languid yet predatory interest of a man accustomed to getting what he wanted. He was an attractive man who knew it a little too well, with the toned physique of a duelist, shown off by an impeccably tailored suit. A loop of dueling charms hung around his neck, expensive gems and metals and sparking spheres of elementals, and his mage levels were displayed in his aura far more openly than was considered polite in Caldona. Like Vico, he had the fair Sanne complexion, though without the freckles, and his pale blond hair was pulled back in a short ponytail, which made him look a bit younger than his forty years.

“Gods and unholy spirits, what is he doing here,” Vico said under his breath, before slipping into the mild, deferential aura he cultivated for dealing with his more difficult cases and striding over to the doors. “Mr. Weyland. To what do we owe the unexpected honor of your presence?” He said it in Caldi rather than Talese, playing up the faint lilt of his accent, a tactic that served him well with Weyland, who liked the exoticism of it. Vico couldn’t make the man take him seriously, but he could be pretend to be charming while Weyland underestimated him. That made it easier to talk him around to things. Malcolm Weyland was no fool, but he did have the same annoying blindspots most high leveled mages revealed when confronted with someone whose levels were not so impressive, regardless of their capabilities.

Weyland’s pale blue eyes swept over Vico with lazy admiration as he approached. “Mr. Rhaimes. Every time I see you I can’t help but think what a damn shame it is, a young man of your obvious—talents, wasted on one of these backwards Caldi clans.” 

Micah made a small, disgruntled sound behind Vico at that description.

“I daresay if I can bear it, then you can,” Vico said, curving his lips into a small, cool smile with a hint of a challenge, because he knew Weyland liked that too. “Is there something I can do for you this afternoon?”

“I came on the matter of these elemental lines your mages have been working on these last two days. There has been a great deal of interference to my own work. I was hoping I might have a word with you on the subject, see what we couldn’t…facilitate. I’d hate to have to file another injunction, have the Elemental Commission out here.” He smiled, as if he were offering up some charming conversational interlude instead of a threat. 

“That would be unfortunate,” Vico agreed. “Especially since the interference is well within acceptable levels.” He went to the table and rifled through the papers laid out there, bringing back a sheaf of regulations, and the charts from the work log, which he gave to Weyland. “I doubt Commissioner Monerre would be pleased to be called out on such a trifling issue when she’s already so busy.”

Weyland looked up from the papers in amusement. “You’re always so prepared,” he said. “I wish my secretary were this thorough. I don’t suppose you’ve put any thought into my offer.”

Vico laughed lightly, as if the offer to run Weyland’s errands and put up with his advances every day would somehow be less of an insult to his talents.

“I wonder if you have an objection to my looking over the linework myself, to confirm this?”

“We do have an objection, actually,” Micah said. “It’s proprietary spellwork, and you are trespassing, Weyland.”

Weyland only grinned. Vico nudged Micah through the clan bond.

don’t start a confrontation, he’d love that. he’s been wanting a duel with one of ours for ages

Micah scowled at him.

he’s not clan, or even Caldi, and there’s no business shared between Malthusius and Weyland Enterprises, so there’s no reason to tolerate his continued interference, especially when he can’t be bothered to be subtle about it. if he wants a fight, I’m more than happy to give him one

no. just let me handle this, I want him gone before he can waylay Walsh and say something that might upset the inspection 

Weyland had already turned to Lejan with a speculative gleam in his eyes. “Mr. Jacinth, isn’t it?”

Lejan gave him a mildly puzzled smile. “I, er, didn’t realize I was so notorious?” Starling had a small but thriving Malachai community, though he was the only one of them numbered among the Malthusius. He did tend to stand out among the other bonded, with his large build, a much darker complexion than even the most southern of the old Caldi, and the braids and beads, and the pale tattoos the ran up his arms, indicating his family status back in his homeland.

“I hear you’re contract bonded. That’s a little unusual in these parts, isn’t it? I didn’t expect Malthusius would take to the idea,” Weyland said, taking no trouble to hide how thoroughly he was studying Lejan’s aura. 

“I am.” Lejan said. Vico couldn’t help a flicker of annoyance on his behalf, even though he knew Lejan was not bothered by the scrutiny. He had adopted the Caldi custom of internal shields, a courtesy toward those of higher spiritualist sensitivity, but in Malacha, as in the Isles, people wore their magic more openly, and neither country cultivated spiritual magic as a rule the way the Caldi did.

“What does Malthusius offer you?” Weyland went on. “The Malachai are known for their directed elementalism, and you’ve impressive levels. I’d double their offer. Come work for me.” 

Lejan’s eyebrows went up in genuine surprise. Beside him, Micah tensed in outrage. Poaching of bonded was a dueling offense among clans. Vico pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand, laying the other on Micah’s arm to hold him back.

“I’m flattered, Mr. Weyland,” Lejan said, “but I’ve signed on with Malthusius, and I’d prefer to honor my contract.”

“I’d buy you out, of course.” His eyes went appreciatively over Lejan from head to foot and he gave a suggestive smile. “I don’t mind saying I rather like the look of you, myself.”

Lejan gave a snort of laughter. “That’s terribly generous, but I doubt my wife would appreciate your phrasing.”

“Is she as easy on the eyes as you? How’s her magic? I’m not a particular man by any means. It could be an open invitation.”

“Sorry, Mr. Weyland, but I’m really more of a family man type myself,” Lejan said easily, lifting his hands in a slight shrug, as if it couldn’t be helped.

Weyland shrugged too. “Too bad.” His gaze settled back on Vico. He held the papers out to him. “I’m still waiting for my answer, Mr. Rhaimes.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t the time to give you a tour of the lines today,” Vico said. “You’ll just have to take my word for it.” 

“Quite all right. I’m sure Inspector Walsh will be happy to confirm you are operating within the required specifications,” Weyland said, looking out to where Walsh was making a circuit of the outside wall. 

He looked entirely too intrigued by the prospect of talking to the inspector. That could prove problematic for the results of the inspection. Vico took him by the arm in a much more forward manner than he would have preferred, considering how many times Weyland had propositioned him in their previous dealings. It required a real effort to look up at the man with an appropriately demure tilt to his head, but he could see that he had taken Weyland off guard with the unexpected familiarity, and he wasn’t about to give up that advantage. “Have you considered that the interference is due to the limitations of the auto-magic defenses you maintain around your own properties?” he asked conversationally, drawing him outside the door and down the front walk.

 “Are you doubting the efficacy of my designs?” Weyland said, with the sort of tolerant amusement of an elder toward a youth. If he noticed he was being pulled in the direction of the gate he didn’t show it. “I am quite a good mage, you know.”

Vico suppressed an urge to punch the patronizing bastard, instead leveling him an appraising sidelong glance. “I am aware,” he said, with a careful suggestion of a smile. “I was only pointing out that Caldi lines are run on spiritual as much as elemental manipulation. I’ve noted that Talese auto-magic does not offer the same sort of precautions in that aspect as the directed wards we generally use. If you are interested in licensing our proprietary wards for your operations, I can put you in touch with our legal department. An affiliation between our business interests would answer very well, I’m sure.”

“Ever the salesman,” Weyland said with a laugh. He tried to linger inside the gate, his sharp gaze drifting back to where Walsh stood studying the complex written spell carved into the wall against the pages in her hands, not quite close enough to catch her attention. “You seem rather more up on our automagics than I would have expected. For someone with levels like yours.” He looked over Vico’s aura with a new, more calculating interest.

“I’ve been told I’m too observant for my own good,” Vico said, though the comment about his levels set his teeth on edge. Like levels had a damn thing to do with written magic.

“Perhaps we could get together at some point and discuss your…observations,” Weyland said, letting his eyes drift back to Vico’s face. “Over dinner? What are your plans for the rest of the weekend? Surely Master Malthusius doesn’t work his mediators without even a Sunday break?”

Vico offered up an apologetic smile. “I’m afraid I have a familial obligation that requires tending this weekend, Mr. Weyland. Why don’t you take my card and get back to me about that at some point, maybe next week?” He drew Weyland the last few paces to the sidewalk outside the gate and let go of his arm, producing one of his business cards and holding it out to him between two fingers. 

Weyland paused, not annoyed or angry, but still tolerantly amused to realize he had been led out the gate so easily. He reached out to accept the card anyway, standing far closer to Vico than was strictly necessary, and was taken off guard again when Vico withdrew the card from his reaching hand, instead tucking it into the pocket of Weyland’s suit coat. Weyland’s eyes moved from his hand to Walsh, who was heading back towards the building. “This isn’t going to work a second time, you know,” he said, his tone mild.

Vico patted the card in his pocket and said, “Maybe next time you’ll get luckier, Weyland.” The flirtatious smile dropped off his face as soon as his back was turned, and he stepped through the gate. He felt the shiver of the magic as Micah closed the wards behind him. Weyland laughed quietly, but he got in his car and left. Vico rolled his eyes as he made his way back to the factory doors, making a mental note to tell the secretaries in the mediations office not to transfer any calls from Weyland to him directly.

“Were you flirting with that son of a bitch?” Micah demanded.

“What? It got rid of him,” Vico said. 

Micah regarded him with disapproval. “You should have let me challenge him. We could have made a judgement to keep him from interfering anymore.” 

“Only if you won,” Vico pointed out. Of course clan-born duelist types wouldn’t understand the importance of settling an antagonistic overture diplomatically. If they did, being a mediator would not be such a low-status job. “And anyway, he’s not Caldi, and duel judgements aren’t legally binding anymore. He’s not going to fight you for the honor of it. He just wants a victory to lord over Malthusius.”

“You’re awfully sure I couldn’t beat him!” 

“I couldn’t begin to say, I’ve never seen him fight,” Vico said. “But he does have a reputation.”

“Did he mean it, do you think?” Lejan wondered aloud. “The job offer.”

Micah threw him a revolted look. “You weren’t actually considering it!”

“Of course not. I was just wondering what he was angling for.”

“Trying to incite a duel so he could distract us from the true nature of his visit. Which was probably to get Walsh’s attention and disrupt the inspection,” Vico said.

“Asshole,” Micah muttered. Vico agreed completely.