Untitled (3.2) (2016)

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(acybermage – Pinterest)

“Sooo, why am I in this?” Gavin asked, looking around the group before settling on Tobias again. “I’m no researcher or scholar.”

“The Headmaster named you specifically. Since we’ll be on Earth, he wanted someone for protection, in case the factions decide to ignore neutrality.”

“Fair enough.”

Oifa spoke after a few silent moments, “What do we know about this anomaly?”

“The messenger we received only said it is big,” Tobias shrugged, “in size, not necessarily effect. Exactly how big or what that means, she didn’t say. But, it’s on a border of Coven and Rover territories and both factions are apparently worried enough about it to jointly ask for help.”

Shannon nodded, “A little tricky, but it could be worse. At least those two haven’t been fighting recently, not in several decades. Still, they’re protective of their territories, oddly in the Rovers’ case. Working completely together isn’t normal for them, and inviting outsiders in certainly isn’t. I think we can assume this anomaly is important, and potentially dangerous.”

“The Rovers will leave someone in the area to observe,” Oifa added. “Most of them will have moved on, but all Rover elders would leave someone behind if it’s that troublesome. They won’t be visible, but they’ll be there.”

Tobias took that under advisement. Salovich had been part of the Company of Rovers in her youth, he recalled.

Still, he figured they would be mostly dealing with the Coven. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to think of anyone who fit the other criteria who had been raised Coven. Except the messenger, who might be a resource. On the other hand, the Coven’s relationship with outsiders was interesting, to say the least.

“Are they likely to intervene? Or is this likely to be a trap, some way to kidnap their way to the Tower?” Marker asked. Paranoid, Tobias thought, but at least he was taking the job seriously.

Shannon shrugged, “Unlikely. There’s no benefit for the Coven or Rovers in any attempt, at least on a political level. The Coven already effectively, indirectly, controls the Henge, through influence, which is more in line with their philosophies. Attempting to take the Tower too would be . . . ill-advised on their part. And I don’t see the Rovers ever wanting to control any of the schools.” She glanced at Oifa, who shook her head in agreement. “It could be possible that the Order or the Circles could try to take advantage of the situation, or some minor player, but given the remote region, also unlikely.”

It was Tobias’s turn to nod, “The Headmaster believed the biggest possible threat would be local wildlife. Depending, of course, on what this anomaly is.”

The quartet was silent, each studying the other three or lost in private thoughts.

For his part, Tobias weighed the others and decided that he’d put together the best group that he could. Given the circumstances, the lack of information, and the limits imposed by Waite, they were his best options.

After a time that felt like hours, but was probably a handful of minutes, Oifa cleared her throat and spoke, “We should probably retire, decide what we need to take and prepare. Unless anyone has anything else to add?”

Tobias nodded, “Echoing my own thoughts. My apologies for the lack of data, everyone.”

He perched on a convenient desk and watched as the others left the room. Oifa had drifted out like she just happened to be headed toward the door, while Gavin moved with purpose and seemed to be aware of everything around him. That was subtly different from the situational awareness he’d seen in students who’d trained in combat arts, or the minimal level that he himself had learned long ago in the same classes. What was the difference? Fear wasn’t the right word, nor was paranoia; Marker didn’t seem jumpy, more wary. Shannon was last, as she had been to arrive. She moved with a purpose born of having a definite direction and goal in the walking.

Tobias remained in the empty room for a few minutes that felt akin to an hour, mulling over the wisdom of his choices.

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