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‘Maela,’ she confirms under her breath.
‘For what she did to that academy?’
‘For a lot of things.’ She frowns at me. ‘Maela has been overstepping her bounds in the Western Coventry. She wouldn’t even let me down there to see you, and that’s not within her power.’
Then why didn’t you come?
‘I thought she was in charge,’ I point out.
‘You have a lot to learn,’ Enora says with an empty laugh. ‘Now that you are an invited Spinster, you’ll dine with the others and get to know the system here. Believe me, Maela is nowhere near the top of the Guild hierarchy.’
I raise my eyebrows. ‘Care to explain the Guild then? It seems like things run a bit differently from what they taught us in academy.’
‘That’s the truth,’ Enora says. ‘The Guild is comprised mainly of men, as you know, but they use women for a lot of tasks within the government. Spinsters, for instance. But there are other positions – secretaries, nurses, assistants—’
‘Like everywhere else in Arras?’ I clarify. This information isn’t all that surprising or interesting.
‘Yes, but they try to keep as much information about what each coventry does a secret. The Guild oversees our work here, places work orders, and steps in to discipline when necessary. Sometimes I think Maela hopes to advance into the Guild ranks, so she can travel around the four sectors, from coventry to coventry.’
‘Is that even possible?’ I ask.
‘I doubt it,’ Enora says. ‘I don’t think the Guild is going to allow a woman into a position of political power. That won’t stop her though, and if I had to lay money on a woman who could rise from under the Guild’s thumb and out of the Coventry, it would be her.’
‘Not that I’m a fan of Maela’s ego getting any bigger, but don’t we already have a pretty powerful position?’
‘That’s where someone like Cormac comes in,’ Enora explains, her soft voice rushing through the information as we walk. We must be getting close to our destination. ‘Officially, he’s a spokesman who keeps the public apprised of what goes on in the coventries and the work we are doing. People think he’s a friendly goodwill ambassador between the Spinsters and the people.’
‘He keeps us in our place. He may not be head minister, but he’s just as powerful. Don’t let him fool you. That’s why he’s here.’
‘As thrilling as that information is, why am I being dragged into this?’ I ask.
‘Good question.’ Enora sighs, and I’d bet she’s wondering how she got stuck mentoring the new troublemaker.
‘Don’t they tell you anything?’ I didn’t mean for this to be an insult, but Enora bites her lip as if it were.
‘No, they don’t, Adelice.’
‘They don’t tell any of us anything,’ I note. ‘So it’s probably stupid to ask, but did you find out about my sister Amie or my mother?’ Asking sends a thrill of dread through my stomach.
‘I’m sorry,’ Enora says, shaking her head. ‘The one person who might have information has been travelling.’
‘Travelling?’ I ask in surprise. ‘Is it a politician?’
‘No, she’s one of us,’ she says quietly, but I can tell she can’t say any more.
I stop asking questions even though my mind is heavy with them, and she leads me to a large red-lacquered door and knocks timidly. The door flies open.
‘Yes?’ an officer dressed in the jet-black uniform of the Guild Special Service asks without meeting our eyes.
‘It’s fine,’ a familiar voice calls from inside the room. ‘They’re my guests.’
The officer moves to the side, and we step into the lounge. It’s more dimly lit than most of the rooms in the compound. Probably due to the heavy velvet curtains that drape the oversized windows. Enough light streams in that I can make out the plush sofas and slick leather chairs strategically placed around the room, but the lack of natural light leaches the colour from the furniture. Cormac sits by a marble hearth, cigar in one hand and cocktail in the other. He’s clad as always in his double-breasted tux, although his bow tie hangs loosely around his unbuttoned collar.
‘Miss me?’ he asks.
‘It hasn’t been that long,’ I remind him.
‘I’m sure it’s felt like a lifetime,’ he says, running his eyes down me. ‘Adelice, you are looking . . . malnourished.’
‘Cormac, you’re looking overdressed.’
‘Good,’ he sneers. ‘Now the hair matches the attitude.’
Beside me Enora fidgets.
‘And who are you?’ he asks, turning to her and squinting in the dark.
‘Enora,’ she says quietly. ‘I’m Adelice’s mentor.’
To her credit she sounds calm.
‘Nice to meet you, Enora,’ he says, taking a swig from his glass. ‘I’ll have Adelice escorted back to her quarters when we’re through.’
‘I’m happy to stay,’ she tells him.
Cormac chuckles like this is a bold suggestion and shakes his head. ‘That won’t be necessary.’
With one worried look, Enora steps back through the door, and I’m left alone in the room with the Guild’s official Coventry Ambassador.
‘Sit,’ he commands. ‘Cocktail?’