“The lady in question fought against the Russian Imperial invasion of their small city. The legend states that she placed herself onto a rocky island a short distance from the cliffs and then called an entire battalion of the invading Russian troops to her. She drowned three motorized rifle companies before the few survivors finally managed to reach the rock. She was torn apart. Quite literally, I’m afraid.”
Oh, Catalina . . . I could picture my sister on that rock. That’s exactly what she would do.
“Dreadful business.” The Records Keeper sighed. “The House hasn’t had any female heirs since then. A very knowledgeable source has speculated that it was a matter of choice rather than chance.”
“They abort female children?” Rogan asked, his voice cold.
“Such is the rumor. The House refused our attempts to reach them for a consult. They’re a very reclusive family. Thus, we are left on our own, so after much deliberation, we are creating a new category for Ms. Catalina Baylor.” The Keeper paused. “We shall refer to her as siren.”
She would hate that.
“It is so very exciting. If this magic endures within your family, this may be the beginning of a whole new subset. The rankings of the rare magic talents may shift. We’re bringing in a powerful antistasi Prime for her trials.”
Like aegis mages who blocked bullets and physical attacks, antistasi mages specialized in defense, but against mental attacks. Well, at least that should put Catalina’s mind to rest.
“Which House?” Rogan asked. “Smith?”
“Alessandro Sagredo,” the Keeper said.
Rogan raised his eyebrows.
I glanced at him.
“The best antistasi Prime on record,” Rogan explained.
“We’re taking no chances,” the Keeper said. “Unfortunately, he is otherwise engaged at the moment, so we will have to wait a couple of days. Therefore, your trials will be set exactly one week from now, next Sunday.”
A man marched into the room. In his sixties, but still athletic, he wore black pants, a black T- shirt, and a black garment that could be called a sweatshirt in the same way a Porsche could be called a car. It had notched lapels like a suit, the stylish drape of a luxury trench coat, and likely cost more than our mortgage payment. His skin was a light bronze, his hair wavy and black with a lot of white. He had bold, strong features: a broad forehead, black eyebrows, a prominent nose, and a square jaw mostly hidden by a short beard that was more grey than black. His hazel eyes, alight with intelligence, looked at the world with a touch of humor. When I saw him for the first time, I thought he looked like someone’s favorite uncle, who owned a vineyard somewhere in Greece or Spain, spent a lot of time outdoors, and laughed often. That was before I knew who he was.
“Good evening, Mr. Duncan.” The Keeper smiled.
My House formation would be witnessed by Mad Rogan, the Scourge of Mexico, and Linus Duncan, the former Speaker of the Assembly that ruled the magical families of Texas. Dear God.
“I’m late, I know, I’m sorry.” The former most powerful man in Texas hurried across the room. “Some people insist on being annoyingly difficult. What did I miss?”
“Nothing of importance,” the Keeper assured him.
Duncan nodded at Rogan. “Major.”
“Colonel,” Rogan replied.
The Keeper took out a fountain pen, cleared his throat, and glanced at me, his black eyes sparkling behind his glasses. “Michael, if you please.”
Michael stepped forward and produced a high- end camera.
“A verbal acknowledgment is required,” the Keeper told me, his tone confidential. “You must say these words to me: I, Nevada Baylor, petition the State of Texas for assessment and recognition of my family’s powers. Are you ready?”
“Yes.” My heart was beating too fast.
The Keeper nodded at Michael. Michael tapped the camera’s digital screen. The Keeper raised his pen and looked at me. My mouth had gone completely dry.
Somehow I made my lips move. “I, Nevada Baylor, petition the State of Texas for assessment and recognition of my family’s powers.”
“I, Linus Duncan, Head of House Duncan, so witness,” Duncan stated.
“I, Connor Rogan, Head of House Rogan, so witness,” Rogan echoed. “So noted.”
The Keeper wrote today’s date on the page and added, Nevada Baylor on behalf of herself, Catalina and Bernard Baylor. Witnessed by Linus Duncan of House Duncan and Connor Rogan of House Rogan.
“Your petition is granted,” the Keeper said.
Michael lowered the camera and set it aside.
“It is done,” the Keeper said.
“Congratulations, Ms. Baylor,” Linus Duncan told me.
“Thank you for coming to be my witness.”
“Well, if you’re going to jump into the wolf’s den, it helps to have an ally. Even if that ally is old with blunted teeth.”
A muscle in Rogan’s cheek jerked. He hadn’t said anything, but both he and Michael watched Linus Duncan like he would sprout fangs and claws any second.
“I hope you succeed,” Duncan said.
The sound of a woman coming down the hallway in high heels echoed through the room.
“Are you expecting someone?” Rogan asked.
“No,” the Keeper said.