‘Good afternoon, Cassie.’
Well, what had she expected? She was going to have to face him sooner or later, and it might as well be now. Not that she was frightened of him, not any more.
‘Hello, Sir Alric.’
‘Good to see you back.’
Cassie inwardly scoffed – the comment seemed weighted with extra meaning since the Council of Elders’ vote last term. Sir Alric continued. ‘How are you finding Istanbul?’
Damn, he was obviously intent on stopping to chat. Biting back on a sarcastic retort, she gave him a tight smile. ‘It’s very beautiful. What I’ve seen of it.’
‘I’m glad. I hope you’ll see a great deal more. Make the most of it.’
‘Because I might not have been here at all?’ It was out before she could hold her tongue.
He studied her for a few seconds, just long enough to make her uncomfortable.
She ought to thank him, she thought as she averted her eyes and stared at the statue. Without his intervention, Cassie would have been in seriously hot water, having unleashed the full force of her unusual power on those unsuspecting bitchy Few girls at Carnegie Hall. This was the moment to say: Thanks for defending me in front of the Council, Sir Alric. Thanks for having faith in me. Thanks for saving me from the Confine.
She couldn’t; just couldn’t. The memory of the price she’d paid – she and Ranjit – was just too bitter. They were not compatible, Sir Alric had said. They could not be together; their spirits were too dangerous, too volatile. He wouldn’t have saved her if they’d disobeyed him. No, he’d have let her go to the Confine, imprisoned indefinitely. His help had been conditional on their obedience.
Yes, said Estelle viciously. Yes, indeed.
Except that he’s probably right, Estelle. Losing Ranjit was for the best. We both know that now …
An inner smirk from the spirit, and a strategic silence. Estelle said nothing more.
Breaking the awkward silence, Sir Alric said, ‘Cassie, come with me a moment.’
She had no choice but to follow him. He led her beyond the courtyard and along secluded paths through the greenery, but he didn’t pause until he reached another, smaller paved courtyard through an arch hung with vines. Filtered sunlight glanced off the panes of a greenhouse, full of propagated black orchids in pots, but he led her straight through that too and into an opulent room that was clearly his office for this term. It was much darker in here, and lamps flickered, making the shadows leap. Did he always have to make his office so damned intimidating? Not for the first time she decided Sir Alric was downright manipulative.
She recognised his usual desk, the lamp, the bookshelves, the antique globe. On a high shelf stood a stunningly carved jade urn that glowed in the dim sunlight from the window. She remembered that from last term, too. She nodded, looking around, as Sir Alric’s secretary withdrew discreetly to an anteroom.
‘That was not the usual entrance to this office, may I say,’ he said by way of an opener. ‘As a rule I’d like you to use the corridors.’
‘As a rule I will, then.’ Shrugging, she said, ‘Nice. Made yourself at home already, then. Bit different from New York, though, isn’t it?’
‘Indeed. I like a change of scene.’ Sir Alric smiled, ignoring her frosty tone. ‘I like changes altogether. There are many in you, Cassie, if I’m not mistaken. You seem happier. Certainly much better than you did last term.’
‘Yeah …’ she began.
‘You’re adjusting,’ Sir Alric asserted. ‘To your status, that is. And may I say, it suits you.’
‘Thanks,’ she muttered.
‘So I take it you’ll socialise a little more with the others this term?’ His voice was light but there was no mistaking his seriousness. ‘It’s good for the Few to stick together, and it’s never healthy for rivalries to develop. Unfriendly ones, at least. Enmities, shall we say?’
Again he ignored her sarcasm. ‘Your spirit is a powerful one, Cassie; you know that.’
‘Like she ever lets me forget …’
‘And your particular power entails responsibility.’
‘Oh great.’ This time she managed to laugh. ‘Now I’m Spider Girl.’
He smiled with half his thin mouth. ‘I’m not the only one who will be monitoring your progress, Cassie. Please try to keep that in mind. You’re here because I persuaded the Council you could integrate. More importantly, that you could control yourself. You won’t let me down, I’m sure.’ He touched the velvety black petal of an orchid on his desk. ‘You’re like my plants here: dangerously unique. Your interrupted initiation saw to that. I’m extremely careful when I deal with these orchids, Miss Bell, and I intend to take the same care with you and your turbulent spirit. It’s what I promised the Elders, as you will recall.’
‘I think I may have some recollection, yes.’
He lifted an eyebrow and met her gaze directly. ‘And whether my students approve of them or not, I do keep my promises.’
She couldn’t miss the warning in his expression. Once again, he had the moral high ground. ‘Yeah. OK.’
‘Good,’ he said, smiling once more as if they’d just had a perfectly normal student–teacher conversation. He nodded and sat down behind his desk, lifting a folder.