They moved through the building in silence, Adelaide following wherever Tristan led her. She had a thousand and one questions running through her mind but his expression prevented her from asking them. Her leg was starting to throb again as he led her out onto the sixth floor. The decoration here was lavish, much like outside the Chancellor’s office, though she barely had time to register it as she was steered rapidly down the plush carpet corridor towards an imposing pair of frosted glass panelled, ebony double doors.
Tristan paused before them and reached into the pocket of his jacket for his ID card. Holding it up, he turned to look at her.
“I have no idea what’s happening, or why he’s called for you specifically, but just go with it. Don’t be afraid but be respectful, I’m right here with you.” Adelaide nodded as he swiped his card and, with an electric buzz, the lock clicked on the doors. He pushed one open and motioned for Adelaide to walk inside.
When Dekker had told her that this was the floor with the conference room, she expected a large boardroom-style room with a table and imposing chairs, maybe even a wall chart or two. What she actually saw was a vast room, made to seem much bigger by a series of mirrors that lined one wall and floor-to-ceiling windows along the opposite wall. A small door to the right of the double doors led to another room that was too dark for Adelaide to see into. Two security guards stood to attention, armed with Tasers, handguns and batons, either side of this other door.
At one end of the room was a small raised platform that stood about a foot off the ground, with three seats arranged atop it. Dekker sat in the left-hand seat, her clothing now altered to a black pant-suit, her hair loose about her shoulders, looking both beautiful and threatening in the same moment. She smiled softly as she saw them both enter, although the smile didn’t quite reach to her eyes.
On the other side of the central seat sat a tall, thin man in a pin-striped suit with a hooked nose and beady black eyes that stared out from beneath thick, square glasses. There was something sharp and unnerving in his gaze and Adelaide felt herself desperate to look anywhere but at him.
In the centre of the two, on a larger, more ornate chair, sat Chancellor McGordon, his legs crossed and his expression stern, exuding a sense of authority. He nodded curtly when he saw them and Tristan returned this greeting with a shallow bow.
“Is this the witch?” The beady-eyed man turned his head to look levelly at Adelaide, his movements quick and insect-like. She felt her skin crawl just watching him.
“Yes,” McGordon responded sharply.
“Interesting, she is so very like her mother,” he drawled, his accent sharp and distinct, but still alien to Adelaide. “Very pretty.” She felt herself wanting to shudder as he spoke and she yanked her gaze away from him, her eyes meeting Dekker’s, who pulled a disgusted face and smiled comfortingly. The strange man stood up and walked slowly towards Adelaide, his movements unnatural and sharp as he circled her. She could feel his breath on the back of her neck and she felt nauseous.
“Enough, Atian,” McGordon snapped. “She has chosen to study under Dekker, let that be the end of it.”
“Pity,” Atian hissed, “we could use a witch to help with diplomacy.” He moved around to look at her again and a strong, damp, earthy smell came off him in waves. “Such a pity.”
McGordon clicked his fingers impatiently and Atian turned without hesitation, walking back towards them and taking his seat once more. As he sat down, Adelaide saw a beetle climb out from his sleeve and run up his arm before disappearing down his collar and this time she couldn’t hide her shudder.
The Chancellor didn’t seem to notice this and instead looked over towards the guards at the nearby door, nodding his head in a silent command to them. They each gave a bow and, opening the door, disappeared inside momentarily.
“West,” McGordon said, addressing Adelaide directly, “I know you are new here and are yet to learn fully of our laws and customs, but this concerns you directly, which is why I have summoned you. After informing me of the existence of your brother, I sent men out to find him and bring him here, to safety.” Adelaide’s heart lifted for a moment at the thought of seeing Josh. It soon plummeted at the expression on McGordon’s face. “We located your home, using your personal ID and found no trace of him there,” he continued matter-of-factly, “and your house had been broken into and ransacked.”
“There were no signs of a struggle,” Dekker interrupted quickly, seeking to reassure a now ashen-faced Adelaide. “Wherever your brother is, he went willingly.”
“But who… why?” Adelaide felt herself go cold as she tried to speak. “He may have just been out of the house and we had a break-in?” She phrased it more as a question but Dekker shook her head.
“I have ordered my men to remain stationed there for surveillance,” McGordon said, his tone no softer for the news he was imparting, “and there has been no sign of your brother returning and his vehicle is still present at the property. We did, however, find this,” he said, indicating with a jut of his chin towards the other door where the guards were just emerging. Between them they held what appeared to be a young boy, though he was fighting so furiously it was hard to be certain. His skin was a muddy brown and his face, although young-looking, was lined and covered in warts. Sharp, needle-like teeth snapped and bit furiously at the strong arms that held him and small black claws on his hands and bare feet scratched in vain against his captivity.
The two guards brought him into the centre of the room and threw him to the ground. Jumping to his feet with a snarl, the boy leapt towards McGordon, arms outstretched, claws extended. In a flash, Dekker was on her feet, arm outstretched as he collided with her, slamming back onto the polished wooden floor with a cry of pained surprise. She clicked her fingers and the two guards leapt on the small form, pinning him down as he struggled.
“Enough!” McGordon shouted as Dekker resumed her seat next to him, calm and composed as though nothing had happened. The young man stilled instantly and surrendered, his lithe body going limp. McGordon turned to look at Adelaide. “This young goblin was found in your house, it was he that we believe caused the destruction within.”
He turned his steady gaze back on the goblin, who quailed visibly.
“You have broken into the house of a human, cause wanton destruction and risked exposing yourself in so doing. The penalty for this is severe.” The young man tried to free himself again, but the guards held him fast this time and the movement seemed to hurt him. “But you can help yourself,” McGordon’s voice became a little softer, almost caring, but his eyes were cold as steel. “Tell us what has happened to the warlock, this girl’s brother.”
“Joshua,” Adelaide volunteered before she could stop herself, “his name’s Joshua.” McGordon nodded without looking at her.
“Tell me what you have done with Joshua West.” The goblin’s eyes darted around furiously, looking from McGordon to Dekker, to Atian and back, settling with a wide, frightened gaze back on the Chancellor.
“No boy,” he croaked, his voice high-pitched but guttural. “No boy home.”
“He was gone when you got there,” Atian said, his voice slow and measured, “is that what you are saying?” The goblin nodded furiously.
“No boy home,” he repeated, pleading with his eyes.
“Why did you attack their home?” McGordon asked, his tone unchanged. “Tell me why.” The goblin shook his head, his breathing becoming shallow with fear. McGordon sighed. “I know your kind is incapable of planning and plotting, you are mere idiots that rejoice in chaos. But this attack was localised, you specifically entered that house and that house only. Somebody must have told you to target that particular one?”
The goblin continued to shake his head, a shrill howl of despair creeping out as it began to sob.
“No say, will kill.”
“They will kill you if you say?” McGordon transalated. The goblin nodded vigorously, tears streaming down from its wide, terrified eyes. “You know that it is an offence to withhold information from me?” The young creature began to mutter incoherently, its body wracked with sobs. The guard on his left shook him violently but still, he did not stop. With a frustrated growl, McGordon pinched the bridge of his nose tightly.
“Very well,” he sighed, his voice resigned. “If you will not tell me then you are of no use to me.” He nodded to one of the guards who used his free hand to unholster his gun and, aiming it at the young man’s head, pulled back the safety catch. Dekker sat up immediately and to her left, Adelaide sensed Tristan tense.
“You cannot be serious,” Dekker said, incredulous. McGordon fixed her with a withering look but she refused to flinch, staring back at him with her steely blue eyes.
“He broke into a human’s house, risked exposure and has defied me,” the Chancellor’s tone was level, every word enunciated. “I am deadly serious.”
He turned back to the guard, who seemed to be waiting on his command.
“If you pull that trigger,” Dekker growled through gritted teeth, “I’ll kill you myself.” The guard hesitated, looking back from one to the other in confusion.
“If you don’t pull that trigger,” McGordon said, his voice equally as venomous, “then I will give you something far worse than death.” The guard seemed to make up his mind at this and pointed the gun resolutely at the now abjectly terrified creature’s head. His finger began to squeeze the trigger and Adelaide heard someone cry out as she threw her hand over her eyes, not realising that the sound came from her. There was a blur of movement and the gun went off twice, accompanied by the thundering crash of shattering glass and a loud cry of pain.
Peeking through her fingers, Adelaide stared at the scene before her. The goblin lay prone on the floor, having fainted in fright. The guard was unconscious next to him, a large welt appearing on the side of his head. His partner was holding out his own pistol, the barrel pointed shakily at Dekker, who stood with her hands in the air, the now undisguised body of the Chancellor lying at her feet in a spreading pool of blood.