Being called into the office of the leader of the Council was terrifying. It was something that happened so rarely that no one had been able to tell Jacinth what to expect, so she sat in the waiting area and tried to calm herself down. She was a good Walker, even though studying the worlds really hadn’t prepared her for actually travelling to one of them, but that didn’t mean anything. Alana had been a good Walker too, until she was arrested. She still didn’t know why it had happened or where Alana had gone after she had her tattoos removed, yet. Passing all thirty-four exams meant she could explore all thirty-four worlds, and she was going to keep looking until she found Alana.
“Jacinth, he’s ready for you now,” the receptionist said, making her jump.
Standing, Jacinth smoothed her hands down her skirt, drying her hands a little at the same time, and made her way over to the door. As she put her hand on the door handle she took a moment to pull a shroud of calm around herself, before opening the door and stepping into the room. It was just like any other office, although it was obvious that the window had been made from magic, with a desk, some filing cabinets, and a man behind the desk. He was studying something on the desk, so she closed the door quietly behind her.
“Sit down, Jacinth,” he said, sweeping a chair from nowhere to a position in front of the desk.
Doing what she was told was something Jacinth was good at, so she followed the order and sat on the amazingly comfortable chair. She waited until he looked at her, with stunning purple eyes that she was certain came from the maternal side of his family, before she summoned what she thought of as her most professional smile.
“You wanted to see me, sir.”
Amusement filled his eyes. “I did.” He ran his tongue over his bottom lip. “Please don’t calm me sir. I feel much too young to be called sir.” He sighed. “I feel much too young to be the leader of the World Walkers Council, but unfortunately that’s something I didn’t have a choice about.”
“What should I call you then?” Jacinth asked, even though it wasn’t the question she really wanted to ask.
“Kester would be nice.” He glanced down at whatever it was he’d been studying before she came in. “Why did you chose to study all of the worlds of the Web?”
“Both my mother and grandmother were Walkers who passed all thirty-four exams, so I didn’t feel like I would be a true Walker if I didn’t do the same thing.”
Kester nodded. “Any other reason?”
“At the beginning that was the only reason,” she replied, being much more honest than she’d expected to be, “and then I started getting into what I was doing. When I finished studying one world I wanted to study the next one, because they’re all fascinating.”
“I felt the same way.”
“You’re a Walker?”
“Technically, yes. I had to learn about all thirty-four worlds and the three lost worlds in order to become take this position, even though I’m not meant to travel. My job is to keep an eye on everything from here.”
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but that sounds incredibly boring.”
“It can be, Jacinth, and those are the times when I let myself be a little naughty.” Kester smiled and she smiled back, even though she’d half wanted to dislike him because of the job he did. “There is a reason I wanted to see you here, where I know no one else will be listening, because I’ve set up my own wards. In other places you never know who might be listening.” His smile faded. “Your friend, Alana, wasn’t careful enough, so she was arrested. I didn’t want it to happen, but I only have one vote and the fae really don’t like it when they feel like things aren’t under their control.” Sighing, he shook his head. “I’m glad I was raised by sensible people who understand the importance of the Walkers and the changes that are happening to the magic you’ve been given.”
As Jacinth shook her head she did her best not to let the calm slip and her comfortable smile was replaced by her professional one. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I can feel your connection to…” Kester tilted his head, looking at her in a way that made her feel certain he was seeing into her. “Kniroch and… Gaelom. Really? That must be interesting.”
“You may think you can feel something, but I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m not looking to catch you out. Jacinth, you’re something special. A true Walker.” Kester ran a hand through his hair, looking a little flustered. “When the Council, the fae, decided that the natural Walkers were too dangerous to exist they changed the way things worked and the worlds weren’t happy about that. Rules were put in place to make certain that the new Walkers, the Council created Walkers, were in their control, but those rules weren’t going to stop the magic they used to create those Walkers from evolving. The tattoos you’re wearing now are different to the tattoos that a Walker would have been given when the first Council Walker passed her exams. Even then the Council weren’t as in control as they believed they were.” He shrugged. “They didn’t want to believe that they’d chosen a sentient world that didn’t take well to being ordered around by a bunch of children.”
The more Kester said the more he sounded like he knew what he was talking about, but that didn’t mean Jacinth dropped her defences. A part of her wanted to, because she’d never been able to talk about her connections to Kniroch and Gaelom, while the rest of her was screaming at her to run out of the office. She ignored the urge, knowing that running from the office would make her look guilty, so she had to stay in the seat listening to Kester until he gave her permission to leave.
“Athare is sentient?”
“Jacinth, please. Stop pretending you don’t know what I’m taking about.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, so I can’t. I didn’t know that Athare was sentient, I’ve never heard of true Walkers before, and I had no idea that the magic used to make the tattoos was evolving.” She shrugged, trying to seem nonchalant. “Everything you’ve told me is very interesting, but surely there are more important people you should be telling about this.”
“There’s no one more important than you.”
That shocked her enough that she laughed unexpectedly. “What?”
“You’ve passed all thirty-four exams, and you’re a true Walker. I need you to start listening to what I’m saying rather than being scared that I’m going to get you arrested when you admit that you have a connection to two of the worlds of the Web, you’re probably closer to several people on those worlds than you should be, and you believe that the first rule is much too confining.” Kester smiled at her. “I believe the first rule is too confining, but I can’t convince the fae they need to change it, because they think not having the rule there will make the Walkers more likely to change things that they shouldn’t.”
“In other words they think we’re idiots,” Jacinth said, focusing on the safe part of what he’d said.
“No, they’re scared of loosing control.” Kester sighed. “They don’t realise they lost control a long time ago and nothing they do is going to change that.”
“Aren’t you a descendant of Riordan?”
“Yes, I am, but he didn’t like the fae any more than I do, even though he was fae. That was why he ended up marrying Tegan against his family’s wishes.” Kester shrugged. “I’ve never thought of myself as fae and that makes the fae uncomfortable with me, the same way they’ve been uncomfortable with the leader of the Council ever since Riordan created it. He was only permitted to stay in charge because he compromised with them by giving the fae positions on the Council, which meant they could often overturn the decisions he made if they didn’t like them. They still do it now if they don’t like the decisions I make, so I work around them as best I can.”
“Am I part of that work around?”
“You could be, if you ever admit to being a true Walker.”
“If I did what do you need from me?”
“Help finding other true Walkers and working with them to make the Council better than it is now.”
“The fae will always want to stay in control of the Council. In order to make it better than it is now we’d need to get rid of them, which is impossible.”
“Unless we create another Council.”
Jacinth stared at him. “That has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve heard.”
Thankfully Kester didn’t seem to take offence, instead grinning at her in such a way that told her he knew what a stupid idea it was. “Maybe it is, but right now all I know is that something is happening that no one expected, and I need to find a way to work with it. The fae won’t want to know that the magic is evolving, because that would mean admitting that nothing they created is under their control and that’s something they’ll never do, so I have limited options. If you have any better ideas I’d be happy to hear them.”
“Give me some time and I might have some, but that doesn’t mean I’m admitting to being a true Walker.”
“It’s up to you, Jacinth.” Their eyes met. “Alana is living on Eulae. I’ve done everything I can to help her, because she was another true Walker, and she told me to tell you where she is, because you’re the one person she really trusts.”
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