The Office of House Records occupied a short tower of black glass on Old Spanish Trail, across the street from the Bureau of Vital Statistics. The asymmetric building leaned back, textured, its profile odd. As Rogan pulled his gunmetal- grey Range Rover into the parking lot, I saw the front of the tower. It was shaped like a feathered quill. The setting sun played on the dark glass. Only a handful of cars waited in the parking lot.
“Are you sure he will be there?” I asked.
“It’s Christmas Day.”
Rogan turned to me. “He will be there, because I called and asked.”
I gripped the zippered file so hard, my fingers went white. Last chance to back out. Rogan reached over, his magic curling around me. He took my hand and held it in his.
“Do you want me to turn around?”
“No.” I swallowed. “Let’s do this.”
We got out of the car and walked to the door. It slid open with a whisper, and we stepped into a modern lobby. Black granite sheathed the walls, grey granite shone on the floor, and in the center of the lobby, thin lines of gold traced a magic circle. A guard looked at us from behind his desk and bowed his head. Rogan led me past him to the elevators.
The folder seemed so heavy in my hands. All my doubts bubbled up and refused to disappear.
“Am I doing the right thing?”
“You’re doing the only thing that makes sense to keep your family safe.”
“What if I don’t qualify?”
“You stood toe- to- toe with Olivia Charles, a manipulator Prime, and you won.” His voice was steady. “You will qualify.”
“Thank you for coming with me.”
He didn’t answer. He’d made it clear in the past that he expected me to walk away from him the moment our family became a House. He didn’t think our magic was compatible. If we had children, they might not even be Primes. He viewed this as the beginning of our end, but he came anyway. He was also a complete idiot if he thought I’d let him get away. He was mine. My Connor.
The elevator opened. We stepped into a hallway, with a dozen doors branching off from it, all closed. At the very end of the row of doors, large double doors stood open. We walked toward those doors, then through the doorway, into a huge circular room. Books lined the walls, thousands of books on the curved wooden shelves, three stories high, each floor with its own railed balcony. A grouping of comfortable couches upholstered in dark leather occupied the center of the room. Directly in front of it, between us and the couches, a round counter rose.
An old man sat behind the counter, reading a book. His skin was a warm brown, pointing at a Latin American heritage, his hair was white, and he wore a three- piece grey suit with a tartan bow tie. He raised his head, smiled at us, and hopped off his chair. His eyes, behind large glasses, were very dark, almost black, and shiny like two pieces of obsidian.
“Ms. Baylor,” he said, his voice soft and cultured. “Finally.”
“I’m sorry to trouble you on a holiday.”
He smiled wider, showing white teeth. “Don’t mention it. It is, after all, my job. I would’ve done it anyway. I was in downtown Houston, in the tunnels, when the Old Justice Center fell. I owe you and Mr. Rogan my life.”
A man emerged from a shadowy alcove in the side wall, moving silently across the floor. In his mid- twenties, he wore expensive shoes and a sharp black suit, with a white shirt that looked even whiter against his light bronze skin, and a black tie. Black and grey tattoos covered his hands and neck. His dark brown hair, cut short on the sides, but longer on top of his head and slicked back, defined a long handsome face, with intelligent eyes the color of whiskey. He looked dangerous and slightly mournful, like a Prohibition- era gangster at a funeral.
“It’s not every day one gets to register an emerging House,” the Records Keeper continued. He leaned closer and smiled at me, as if sharing a secret. “Especially one with a truthseeker in it. I’m so very excited to meet you. Michael is also very excited, aren’t you, Michael?”
The Records Keeper put on a pair of linen gloves and turned around. Behind him a massive book lay on a pedestal under a glass hood. He raised the hood, picked up the heavy volume, bound in marbled leather, and placed it on the counter. An elaborate gold crest decorated the front panel.
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
“It is. Eighteenth- century Dutch binding. The Houses of Texas have been recorded in this book since before statehood.”
He opened it gently and showed me an empty page. “If you pass the trials, your House will be written here.”
He turned the heavy pages to the red bookmark. Four columns of names written in beautiful calligraphy covered the page. Some were crossed out.
“Are those the people who failed the trials?”
He nodded. “Indeed. Now then, do you have the necessary paperwork?”
I passed him the folder. He opened it, scanning the pages.
“Where is the second witness?” Rogan asked.
“Running late. Given the circumstances, I wanted to make sure to select someone whose reputation is beyond contestation. Someone whose name commands respect. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
“A witness to the emergence of a House has certain obligations,” Rogan told me quietly.
“We’re expected to offer advice and guidance.”
The Keeper checked the signatures and raised his head. “You’ve presented us with a conundrum, Mr. Rogan. Finding a suitable test for a truthseeker was challenging, but identifying the younger Ms. Baylor’s magic was even more so. I must say, your sister’s power is something truly remarkable. It is, of course, a mental branch, but what subset? One would naturally lean toward a psionic, but a psionic who evokes a genuine love has never manifested. Michael and I had to dig very far through our archives and other archives. Favors were called in, access to databases had to be requested, and foreign Keepers of Records were consulted. But we persevered, didn’t we, Michael?”
Michael nodded again.
“We had to reach very far, and we finally found what we were looking for in Greece. There is a single House— just one, mind you— whose record showed the emergence of a similar talent. Only in female offspring. The last verified manifestation was in the 1940s. Apparently, there was some unpleasantness.”
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