“What are you doing here?” Alessandra exclaimed, feeling as stunned as she’d ever been in her life.
“Looking for you, of course,” Mikaelo replied, his grin growing slightly less sheepish and slightly more mischievous. “Nice outfit.”
“So you do know him,” Shalor interjected. “Good. I was afraid this young man was some sort of scoundrel who had managed to get ahold of one of Ilimay’s ilvusa and somehow connected it to you.”
“What is an ilvusa?” Alessandra asked.
“This,” said the apprentice, holding up a small, rectangular card. It was silvery, as if it were made of metal, and it shone faintly in the light. Alessandra recognized it as the card that Ilimay had given to her right before she died. “Every member of the Order of Sunaru has a distinct ilvusa. They are used to mark people that mages want to show favor to. Anyone who has been given an ilvusa may come to the Avaroth, and the Order is bound to aid them in whatever way we can.”
“Why don’t I have any?” Alessandra asked. Mikaelo let out a scandalized snicker. “What?” she snapped.
“You will, in time,” Shalor replied, and Mikaelo looked shocked. “I take it Ilimay gave that to you,” Shalor continued, ignoring Mikaelo.
“Yes, right before she was killed,” Alessandra said quietly.
“And you found it in her belongings and traced it here?” Shalor asked Mikaelo.
“More or less,” Mikaelo said, with a nonchalant shrug.
“I see,” Shalor said thoughtfully. He paused for a moment, and then said, “I appreciate your affection for your former leader, but I am afraid that there is no place for you here. I am going to have to ask you to return to your clan immediately.”
“What?” Alessandra exclaimed, shocked. At the same time, Mikealo stood and yelled, “But I brought you the ilvusa! I thought you just said that meant you were supposed to show favor to me!”
“The ilvusa binds us to aid the one it was given to,” Shalor said smoothly. “This one was given to Alessandra, not you. As Alessandra is now a member of the Order, I think you would agree that we have done a great deal to aid her.”
“Wait a minute!” Alessandra cried, grabbing Shalor by the arm while Mikaelo looked at Alessandra with something approaching awe. “Why can’t he stay? He’s my friend!”
“You have a great deal of work to do, between your training and your mission,” Shalor replied coolly. “The last thing you need is an old friend hanging around to distract you.”
Alessandra stared at him in dismay for a moment, and then a thought occurred to her. She let go of Shalor, and gestured for him to follow her a little ways away from Mikaelo and the apprentice. He did so, a questioning look on his face.
“I just had an idea,” she said in a low, excited voice. “You want to find the Receptor. I need more information to do it, and that information isn’t going to be found anywhere but in a Storm Corps base. Anybody officially connected to the Order can’t do it, because it’s too great a risk, but what if somebody who was not officially connected to the Order did it for us?”
“Someone like…a thief clan?” Shalor said, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
“Exactly,” Alessandra said with a wink. Shalor pursed his lips for a moment.
“That’s…not a bad idea,” he said slowly, and then he nodded. “Of course, we’re still going to need to get it approved by the Sutorlah. But it has a much better chance of winning approval than your previous idea.” He turned back to Mikaelo and the apprentice. “Very well, Mikaelo Mekoval. You may stay. We have found a place for you after all.”
“Excellent,” Mikaelo grinned.
“Alessandra, would you please escort your friend to the guest quarters and then meet me on level R3?” Shalor said.
“Of course,” Alessandra replied, bowing her head. Shalor nodded to her, and then swept off toward the inival, leaving Alessandra and Mikaelo alone. There was an awkward silence before either of them spoke.
“So,” Mikaelo began slowly, “you’re part of the Order of Sunaru now, huh?”
“Yeah,” Alessandra replied.
“I thought something seemed weird after you came back from your exile,” Mikaelo shrugged. “Wanna tell me what happened?”
“Eventually,” Alessandra said, mirroring Mikaelo’s shrug. “What about you? How did you figure out I was here?”
“We didn’t, not really,” Mikaelo said with another shrug. “We found that…ilvusa…in your belongings about a month ago, and the Clan Leaders have been debating what to do with it ever since.”
“Wait a minute,” Alessandra said. “You make it sound like they’re still debating.”
“Well,” Mikaelo trailed off with a grimace. A look that was half shock and half admiration spread across Alessandra’s face.
“You stole it!” she exclaimed, the tone in her voice sounding as if she were unsure whether to be horrified or impressed. “You took it and then came here without their permission!”
“Well…yeah,” Mikaelo admitted, with an embarrassed shrug. “I mean, they were taking so long to figure out what to do! And…well…I wanted to see you again.”
“I’m glad to see you, too,” Alessandra said with a roguish grin. “So, tell me everything that’s happened while I’ve been gone.”
“There’s really not that much to tell,” Mikaelo said with another shrug. “Things have been going on the way they usually do. Meela’s done a good job as Clan Master, but she’s not quite as good as you were.”
“Wait…Meela is the new Clan Master?” Alessandra exclaimed, her eyes going wide. “How did that happen?”
“Couldn’t tell you,” Mikaelo said, with a yet another shrug. Alessandra didn’t remember Mikaelo being quite so apathetic. Maybe it was his way of hiding his discomfort at being in the Avaroth. “You know how it is when a Clan Master dies or disappears. The Clan Leaders go into the Master’s study and huddle for a few days, and when they come out they’ve picked one of their own to be the new Master.”
To be continued…