Alexandra stood facing the river, trying to take it in. The accursed book lay in the dirt where she'd dropped it. Her father stood behind her, saying nothing.
"All those children," she said. "They just… take someone, every day?"
"Yes," said her father.
"You knew about this?"
"I knew only what I was unable to tell you because of my Unbreakable Vow. I suspected the rest, and now you have brought me proof."
"How do they do it?" Alexandra asked. "The Actuaries? How do they sacrifice the children?"
"I have my suspicions about the means. I will know more after studying this deathly register."
"They must record enough deaths to balance the tables," he said. "A daily sacrifice is required, but no doubt they ensure sufficient excess to compensate for occasional shortfalls, or in case a day comes when a sacrifice somehow fails to happen, and the occasional surplus requirements —"
Alexandra turned to face him. "You talk like it's just Arithmancy! Balancing numbers! It's gross!"
Her father smiled grimly. "Indeed. But you see, Alexandra, to the Accounting Office, this is just Arithmancy. That is how men have always justified evil. Add the sums, solve the equations, calculate the benefit, write off the harm. As long as it is just columns and figures, not your own living children, it is a necessary sacrifice that happens every day, but elsewhere, to someone else. Even among the Elect who think they know the truth, few know the true cost."
"They usually choose Muggle-borns, don't they?" Alexandra said.
"No, they usually choose Muggles."
Alexandra's mouth opened in shock.
"How many wizarding children do you think could disappear in a year without being noticed?" Abraham Thorn asked. "I believe a certain number must be magical, but it is the life that matters, and whose lives matter least?"
Like an icy spike sliding into her brain, Alexandra felt a terrible intuition then, bringing with it a dread even greater than her dawning horror at seeing that list of names and realizing their meaning.
Praying she was wrong, she knelt in front of the book, reached a trembling hand out, and opened it again to the more recent entries. Her father watched, but said nothing.
She looked at the entries for Lila Hill and Forrest Fleming again, and realized there was a name missing: Roger Darby. This puzzled her, but it was on the page before that that she found what she was looking for. That dread horror closed icy fingers around her heart.
Bonnie Elizabeth Seabury…1/3/1999 — 8/5/2011
"Bonnie," Alexandra whispered, and tears spilled down her face.
Her father laid a hand on her shoulder. "Now you see, Alexandra. You see why I fight. Why we have gone to war, to end the Confederation. With this cursed register, I will not only be able to work out their calculations, I will sabotage them. The Accounting Office will carry on, but we have caused them some difficulty."
She was sure he didn't really understand why she wept. But he wasn't trying to comfort her. He was just justifying his own actions again. That brought another realization to her. She rose to her feet and wiped at her face with the back of her hand. "The Roanoke Underhill."
His hand fell away.
"Yes," he said. "It was an attempt to expose the Accounting Office's work. I thought if I made the wizarding public pay the price instead of letting the Actuaries do their work in shadows, enough Arithmancers and others who understand Life Magic would realize what happened. I could force awareness of the Deathly Regiment despite my Unbreakable Vow."
"So what happened?" Alexandra asked.
"It didn't work." When Alexandra turned back to him, Abraham Thorn was frowning. "I still don't know why."
"So you killed all those people for nothing."
"It still served a purpose. It began the destabilization of the Confederation and the Governor-General's power—"
"You know," said Alexandra, "you're as bad as them in your own way. You added the sums and calculated the harm and decided what you were doing was worth it. Now there's going to be a war and people are going to die. Innocent people, and not just wizards either. Isn't that right?"
"That's right." Abraham Thorn's mouth formed a tight line. "And what did you think would happen when you came to Storm King Mountain? Did you think whatever you accomplished, it wouldn't have consequences? You don't plan ahead as I do. You are clever and impulsive, and you act without strategy, but you know better than to claim you are blameless for what you've done. You asked for a 'distraction.' What did you have in mind, fireworks? And we haven't even discussed what you did on Eerie Island, or in the Ozarks."
"Yes, let's not discuss that." Alexandra nodded. "You're right. I did what I did."
"For what I've done, I will be judged someday," Abraham Thorn said. "But I will bring judgment upon Elias Hucksteen, and the Confederation, and the Deathly Regiment, first." He folded his arms. "So, Alexandra. What will you do now?"
"I'll see to it that everyone knows," Alexandra said. "No more keeping secrets. I'm ending the secrecy now."
Her father laughed ruefully. "And how will you accomplish that, my daughter?"
"With a little help from Mr. Mudd." Alexandra gestured with her wand. Her father turned around to stare at the two floating spheres hovering in the mist behind him.
Alexandra smiled and waved at the Snitch and the Eye-Spy. "I hacked them," she said. "Sorry, Mr. Mudd. I know this isn't what you had in mind, but you sure got an exclusive, didn't you? You might want to go into hiding now. Welcome to the resistance. I'd feel a little worse about this, but those articles you wrote about me were really terrible."
"An Unnoticeability Charm?" her father said incredulously. He snapped his fingers, and the Eye-Spy and the Snitch both ignited in a halo of green sparks and then fell to the ground.
"I do too strategize," Alexandra said, as her father turned back to her with a terrifying scowl. Charlie flapped nervously to a nearby bush.
"You should have asked me first," he said. "You should have told me your plan."
"Sorry. I learned from you that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission." It took all of Alexandra's nerve to face him without flinching, and meeting his gaze was the hardest thing she'd had to do in a week of hard things.
"Do you know what you've wrought?" he asked.
Alexandra swallowed, at his expression, and at the knowledge that she would be responsible for whatever happened next.
Then, slowly, the thunderous look on his face faded, to be replaced by a small smile. And Alexandra realized that he had never been been surprised at all. He'd known her plan all along.
"What would you do now, daughter?" he asked. "Will you join me?"
Alexandra felt such a storm of emotions, she could hardly answer. "The way Lucilla and Drucilla have?"
"That way and more. You know there is no returning to your old life. The war has begun."
"Governor-General Hucksteen is going to want revenge, and now there isn't much to stop him, is there? Which means everyone close to us is in even more danger."
"I will protect my children," said Abraham Thorn.
"Can you protect all of us? And our friends, and their families? If you could protect everyone from the Confederation, you wouldn't have become the Enemy, would you?"
His expression didn't change, but for the first time, Alexandra saw her father as mortal and fallible. He had always been flawed, but he had seemed somehow incapable of doubt or failure. But he was still just a man, and she knew she was right — he couldn't control everything.
Still reeling from everything that had happened to her and all that had been revealed, she finally said, "What would you have me do?"
"I would have you choose freely, Alexandra. I could have compelled you long ago, but I want your allegiance, uncoerced and without reservation."
She looked up at the still faintly glowing top of Storm King Mountain. "I'm not very good at taking orders," she said. "You might have noticed. And I still don't know how I feel about you. Or the Thorn Circle. I don't mean to sound self-centered. I know you're right; the war has begun, and this is a lot bigger than me or my feelings."
"It is," her father said. "And I do need your willingness, and your obedience."
"Right." She sighed. She finally looked at him again. "Can you give me some time? Just a little. I've got a few things I need to do."
She couldn't tell whether he was displeased, but he nodded. "Put your affairs in order. When you call upon me again, be ready to join me wholeheartedly."
She met his gaze. "I will."
"Until then —" he said.
Alexandra took a breath. "Two more things."
His eyebrows rose, as if he weren't sure whether to be amused or angered at her audacity.
Carefully, Alexandra slid her yew wand out from beneath her shirt. "Do you recognize this wand?"
Her father stared at it. When he reached for it, she let him take it. He turned it over and over in his hand.
"It's my mother's wand, isn't it?" Alexandra said.
"Yes." He looked from the wand to her. "It was in my possession. How did you get it—" His expression darkened again. "MEDEA!"
Medea appeared, slinking out of the shadows of the hillside sloping away from them and up the side of Storm King Mountain.
"You didn't tell me she was here," Alexandra said.
Her father ignored her, scowling at his companion. Medea, wearing dark robes cinched at her waist to show off her figure, and stylish high-heeled boots, tossed her black hair back and smiled at him. "She needed a wand, and she was refusing to accept anything from you. You would have given it to her had she asked."
"She didn't ask and I didn't give it to her!" Abraham Thorn's voice was loud enough to carry out over the river. "You had no right!"
Medea quailed only a little, then she smiled again and laid a hand on his chest. "Better to ask forgiveness than permission?" she said softly. She leaned into him, and lowered her head. Her voice was silky. "Abraham, I only wanted to help. Please don't be angry. It is her birthright."
"That's not how wands work. Hecate is still alive." Despite his scowl, Abraham Thorn's anger seemed to be dissipating. He held the yew wand up, and regarded Alexandra as if measuring her for it. "It cannot ever truly be yours, Alexandra. And you had a new wand crafted for you by the Ozarkers, didn't you?"
"Yes," Alexandra said. "But it's my mother's, and I'd like to keep it. Please."
He sighed, and with a saddened expression, handed it back to her. "Carrying two wands is unwise. It can split your attachment and the cores will not harmonize."
Alexandra nodded, and slid the yew wand back down her shirt. She didn't like Medea's amused expression, but ignored it.
"What was the other thing?" her father asked. His arm was around Medea's waist now, and Medea's smile seemed to Alexandra more triumphant than sympathetic.
"Your signature," Alexandra said. "So I can get a tattoo."
Her father's eyebrows went up again. "A… tattoo?"
"Even Sojourns won't give a juvenile a tattoo without parental permission." She gestured to Charlie, and the raven came to her, landing on her arm. With her other hand, she reached into her pocket and withdrew a palm-sized piece of parchment. "Just sign here, please?"
The office was full of oak and mahogany, lushly carpeted, and lit by golden lamps. All the furnishings were gilded, and huge, leather-bound books with complicated titles filled the long wooden cases behind crystal glass panes.
Sitting behind an immense desk, Governor-General Hucksteen rested his hands on his belly with a weary expression while the balding little man in the dark Muggle business suit yelled at him.
"No, we cannot just 'Obliviate the Internets'!" the suited man shouted. "Good God, how do you stay so ignorant? You have an office overlooking Wall Street, you can look out your window and see technology every day! Just because you people still use gas lamps and papyrus —" He swung his arm to take in the Governor-General's office, his lip curling. "There's no excuse for you not to have some clue about how things work in our world!"
The Governor-General reached his hand down to scratch behind the ears of the terrier-like beast that sat at his side. Its forked tail wagged back and forth, and it momentarily stopped growling at the Muggle.
"Really, Mr. Johnson? And how well do you people understand how things work in our world?" asked Hucksteen.
"I understand that you seem to be having trouble keeping your world contained," Mr. Johnson said. "There have been too many freak tornadoes and lightning storms and mysterious ghost-train derailments in the past few years. If you can't keep your people and these bizarre creatures under control — what is that thing, anyway?" He pointed at the canine. It snarled at him and seemed ready to lunge at any moment, yet its eyes kept rolling back to the Governor-General, as if pleading for permission. With none forthcoming, it remained rooted to the floor.
"It's called a Crup, Mr. Johnson. As for my people and our bizarre creatures, there have always been encounters between the wizarding world and yours. The Muggle capacity for self-deception has always served us even better than Obliviators in keeping the occasional incident from disturbing your blissful ignorance."
Mr. Johnson's teeth ground together. "Stop using that M-word. It sounds racist. I've told you before, the official census designation is 'No-Maj.'"
Hucksteen's bushy white brows furrowed. "Not our census. That is an absurd term."
"Blissful ignorance is to both of our advantage," Johnson went on, "and frankly, we're beginning to have doubts about your ability to keep your end of our understanding."
"Indeed?" The Governor-General's tone was casual, as he resumed scratching behind the Crup's ears.
"We're starting to think," Mr. Johnson said, "that maybe you people need a change in leadership."
"And how do you imagine that works, Mr. Johnson?" The Crup was growling again.
"We can read the Confederation Charter," Mr. Johnson said. "You're not Governor-General-for-life, you're Governor-General until the other Governors decide to replace you. Or the Ministry of Magic," he added smugly.
Governor-General Hucksteen laughed. "That's a purely formal construct, and an archaic one. It's been centuries since the Ministry of Magic has had any authority over us. They would have to get their Queen to demand my replacement, and in the unlikely event they were ever foolish enough to try, we'd just rewrite our charter. We are as fully independent from the Old World as you are, Johnson."
"Well, you're not fully independent from us," Mr. Johnson said. "You live in our territory, Hucksteen, and our laws apply to you. Not the other way around."
"Is that so?" the Governor-General asked. "That sounds very much like a threat. Are you sure you want to disrupt the 'understanding' we've had for all these centuries?"
"You're disrupting it!" Mr. Johnson shouted. "You let loose a goddamned dragon in Times Square!"
"Not that many people saw it," Governor-General Hucksteen said.
"A hundred million people are seeing it right now on the Internet!" Johnson yelled. "Get that through your thick skull! We've stood up an entire movie production company and bombarded the news with trailers and news items to distract the public, but there are still people out there who aren't buying the official story, and those people are starting to collect all your other 'occasional incidents' and post them on blogs and newsgroups, and we can't shut down all of them!"
"Well then," said Governor-General Hucksteen, "maybe it is time for our understanding to come to an end."
Mr. Johnson stopped yelling for a moment. His mouth gaped open and shut, like a fish. Then he began shouting again: "Listen to me, you fat, pompous —"
The Governor-General picked up the wand on his desk and pointed it at Mr. Johnson. He spoke a word, and the man disappeared right out of his suit with a pop. What fell to the carpet where he'd been standing was a fat black rat with large, terrified eyes. The rat scampered in a circle on the crumpled folds of the suit, confused.
"Go, boy," said the Governor-General.
The Crup leaped forward eagerly.
Over the sounds of the rat's terrified squeak and the Crup's snarls, Governor-General Hucksteen said, "Richard!"
Richard Raspire opened the door from the side office. "Sir?"
The Governor-General heaved himself out of his chair.
"Come along, Richard," he said, reaching down to scoop up the Crup in one arm. He scratched it under the chin despite the blood dripping from its jaws. "It's time for us to get rid of some vermin."
The oversized pickup truck was the only thing moving for miles in all directions. From one end of the horizon to the other, there was little to see but rolling brown desert, with the occasional jutting protrusion of rocks and clumps of saltgrass. Spring was almost over, and there had been little rain. It was a hot day, so all the more sensible creatures were hiding underground or in shade somewhere.
Henry Tsotsie wasn't one of the more sensible creatures.
As his truck moved through the inhospitable lower valley, he eyed the mountains off in the distance. His destination was a little village up in the northeastern corner of Dinétah, where witches had been reported.
Stories of witches filtered back to the Dinétah Auror Authority all the time. Usually it was non-magical people getting superstitious, or feeling jumpy about a new neighbor, but occasionally there really were witches or other Beings causing trouble, so someone always went to check it out. Today, it was Auror Tsotsie's turn to make the long drive.
Something caught his attention off the one-lane road ahead. He lowered his eyes from the horizon, and spotted a dust cloud moving across the desert. It was small and very, very fast; definitely not caused by the wind. Something was kicking up dust as it raced across the sands at high speed, on an intercept course for his truck.
"Huh," said Henry Tsotsie.
He pulled the truck to a stop on the edge of the road and got out. He lowered the brim of his cowboy hat to shade his eyes, squinted at the approaching dust cloud, and held his wand loosely at his side.
With a blur of motion, the dust cloud came to an abrupt halt a few yards away. When the dirt and sand settled a bit, it revealed a slim white girl with long, black hair tied back from her face, wearing jeans, boots, a loose-fitting long-sleeved shirt, and a backpack strapped over both shoulders. Her hands were empty.
"Alexandra Quick," said Henry Tsotsie.
"Hi, Mr. Tsotsie," said Alexandra. "They told me at the Auror Authority HQ you were out here. Billi Tewawina said you'd be thrilled to see me again."
"Billi Tewawina has a Hopi sense of humor," Tsotsie said.
Tsotsie didn't grin. "What brings you to Dinétah, Miss Quick? I hope you didn't bring trouble with you this time."
Alexandra's grin faded. "Not on purpose."
The Navajo Auror made a chuffing sound as he blew air through his nostrils. "As I recall, you do a lot of things not on purpose."
Alexandra sighed. "All right. I won't be long. But I wanted to warn you."
Alexandra nodded seriously. "My father has declared war on the Confederation. The Dark Convention has joined him. Independent Cultures are probably going to be caught in the middle. Hopefully it won't reach out to you guys in the Indian Territories, but…" She shrugged.
"It always reaches us guys," said the Auror. "We'd like to stay out of Colonial business, but the Confederation doesn't really allow fence-sitting. I already knew about your father declaring war, Miss Quick. Did you know that any Auror who sees you is supposed to arrest you on sight?"
"Oh." Alexandra eyed Tsotsie's wand, but she didn't reach for hers. "So… what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to tell you you should be on your way," Tsotsie said.
Alexandra said nothing, but her expression was glum.
Tsotsie sighed. "You hungry? I got a sandwich in the truck."
Without waiting for her to reply, he walked back to his truck, retrieved a lunchbox, and set it on the hood. He took out a sandwich and some grilled steak and eggs wrapped in foil, along with a thermos of water.
Alexandra walked over and politely accepted the sandwich. He poured some water into a cup for her.
"Where's your raven?" he asked.
Alexandra smiled. She turned and slid her shirt off one shoulder, revealing a vivid blue and black tattoo, so fresh that the skin around it was still red. It was an intricately detailed, near-perfect likeness of a raven, and as Henry Tsotsie watched, it came to life. The inked feathers moved and rose from Alexandra's skin. The raven emerged from the tattoo, and sat upon her shoulder.
Charlie cawed. Alexandra handed the raven a piece of sandwich.
"Huh. Nice. Convenient," Tsotsie said.
Alexandra nodded, and took a sip of water. "Thanks for the food," she said. "And for not arresting me. So, what will happen in the Indian Territories?"
"I don't know," Tsotsie said. "I figure some of our bad folks, the real witches, will join your Dark Convention. Some of us will want to fight the Confederation, and others will just want to keep the peace."
"I heard some Territories are already kind of splitting up," Alexandra said. "Like, they're talking about seceding. It's gonna be a wizard civil war."
"Yup." Tsotsie chewed on his steak. "It'll be bad. All wars are bad. A wizard war is going to be especially bad. No one benefits."
"You heard about the Deathly Regiment, right?"
"Yes." For the first time, emotion crossed Henry Tsotsie's face. It was disgust mixed with anger. "We should have known that was the Confederation's secret."
"I knew about it," Alexandra said, looking off across the desert. "It's why my brother died. My father sent us to find out how the Confederation got its power. I found out, but only I came back."
"Maximilian," said Charlie mournfully.
Tsotsie said nothing for a long time, just sat against his truck with Alexandra, eating his steak and eggs and watching the sun move across the horizon. Charlie didn't like the hot sun, and Alexandra made a gesture. The raven ducked its head, and then in a shrinking motion, sank back into her shoulder and became a tattoo once more. Alexandra pulled her shirt back up over her shoulder.
"That pale skin of yours is going to turn redder than mine," Tsotsie said. "You'd probably better get going."
"Did you just make a joke, Mr. Tsotsie?" Alexandra looked at him with a raised eyebrow and a small smile, but didn't move.
He sighed. "So what are you going to do in this wizard war?"
"I'm going to do the same thing you do, Mr. Tsotsie. I'm going to protect my friends and family."
Tsotsie looked at the slender teenage girl next to him, with her earnest, serious expression. She was the same girl he'd chased across Dinétah last year, still a reckless, troublesome belagana who didn't always know what she was getting into, but he saw that she was well on her way out of childhood now. If the experiences of the previous year hadn't marked her with the wisdom of adulthood, she had certainly grown considerably since then. There were marks both physical and mental upon her.
He felt pity for the girl. She really had no idea what was coming.
"You know people are going to die, right?" he said sadly.
"Yes," she said, and when she looked at him again, there was something frightful in her eyes. "People have already died. I'm responsible."
Tsotsie met her gaze, reassessing her. She might be determined to cause trouble, but it wasn't the reckless, raging fury he'd seen before. He sensed a bottomless well of grief and guilt and anger. It might not be her who had no idea what was coming.
"Are you sure you're not taking more responsibility than you should?" he asked.
"Maybe. But someone has to." She looked away again. "Before I'm done, I'm going to see that all debts are paid."
"If you want to do what I do, Miss Quick, then forget about debts and revenging yourself on the Confederation. That's not how you protect your friends and family."
"I don't suppose you could teach me the Patronus Charm?" she asked. "The one you used at Witches' Rock? I tried learning it from a book, but it's really hard."
"You can't learn it from a book. It's only taught in Auror training. Some can't learn it at all."
"I'm not some people." When Tsotsie said nothing, she added, "I have some time."
"I'm not looking for an apprentice," he said. "Or a sidekick."
Alexandra frowned, then said, "I did come for another reason."
"I figured." Tsotsie waited.
"I came for Nigel."
Tsotsie frowned. "Your snake? You can't keep him. He's probably the most venomous thing on this continent."
"He's mine," Alexandra said, eyes blazing. "He's my familiar, and I want him back."
The Navajo Auror ran a hand through his hair, which was longer than Alexandra's. "Now, look Miss Quick — Alexandra — your Nigel is happy where he's at. I've been taking good care of him. I have a medicine bag for him where he's safe and everyone else is safe from him."
Alexandra nodded. "I know. But he's mine. And if you won't let me have him…" Tsotsie waited for her to finish, eyebrows raised. Alexandra's shoulders slumped. "He belongs with me," she said, in a smaller voice.
Tsotsie shook his head, not so much in denial as in resignation. "Even if he does, where would you keep him? That magical backpack of yours isn't like my medicine bag."
Alexandra smiled. "Mr. Tsotsie, you didn't see my other tattoo."
She lifted her left arm and pulled back her sleeve. Coiled around her wrist and forearm, so lifelike it could have been alive already, was a perfect likeness of a brown snake.
End Year Five
Thank you for reading Alexandra Quick and the World Away. Please leave a review, if you are so inclined. Special thanks to my betas, and to my patient long-time fans, who waited much longer than they should for this book. Shout-out to the /r/AlexandraQuick subreddit, and the Dark Lord Potter forums. Follow me, and my progress on the next book, Alexandra Quick and the Wizard War, at my LiveJournal (yes, I still use it).