Gareth didn’t take any notes for Roman. He still didn’t understand why Roman was on the team at all. He puzzled over it during the meeting, coming up with a dozen and one fantastic conspiracies to explain how Roman won Moira over so quickly.
He also didn’t take notes because he didn’t pay attention; about halfway through the meeting, Gareth had glanced around and realized that no one was paying attention but him, so he’d stopped. Evelyne Corscia, the marionite woman Gareth had spoken with at the last meeting, glared at the wall, her thoughts obviously elsewhere. Cathwright, the dragon, picked at her claws. Even Leandros flipped through other paperwork, expression more intense than Mr. Ochoa’s orientation lecture deserved.
Finally, the meeting was over. While the others filed out, Gareth approached Leandros. “Captain? I have a problem to discuss with you.”
“Is that so?” Leandros asked.
“Yes. We still haven’t gotten those drinks.”
Leandros recovered from his surprise with a brief smile, the scar on his cheek warping with the expression. “Not since you stood me up, no.”
Gareth’s own smile fell. “I—,”
“I joke, Mr. Ranulf. I told you then, I understood. Plans change.”
“I didn’t know they taught you how to do that in Alfheim,” Gareth said. “Joke, I mean.”
“They don’t, of course. There are laws against humor of all kind. Anyone who dares make a pun is sentenced to hang by the gallows,” Leandros said, laughter dancing behind his eyes. “But we’re not in Alfheim, so damn them all.”
Leandros began gathering up his things. Gareth noticed the team roster among other papers, and pointed to a name on it. “McDermott’s off the team, right? I hear he was thrown off a bridge.”
Leandros looked up at Gareth, wide-eyed. “Is that another joke? If so, I don’t understand it.”
“No, no, I wouldn’t joke about that. He was injured in the prison break yesterday.”
Leandros didn’t seem to believe Gareth wasn’t joking. “I’d heard he was off the team, but I hadn’t heard why.”
“Moira— Representative Ranulf, my sister—filled the opening he left this morning. It’s a friend of mine that took the job, actually. I know Roman would have come today, if it hadn’t been for a prior obligation.”
The papers Leandros had been so carefully gathering slipped out of his fingers, catching on the air and scattering across the floor. Leandros didn’t even seem to notice. He was staring at Gareth. “Roman, did you say?”
Too late, Gareth remembered the look that had crossed Roman’s face when he’d heard Leandros’ name, just two days before at the Webhon Players’ performance. “Yes,” Gareth said slowly, “Roman Hallisey. Do you know him?”
Leandros stiffened, eyes dropping from Gareth’s. He looked around at his scattered papers without really seeing them. “He’s on the team now, is he?”
“Yes,” Gareth said, trying to read Leandros’ expression. But even if the alfar didn’t seem it at times, he was from Alfheim. When Leandros chose not to show emotion, no emotion would be seen.
“I see,” Leandros said, and began gathering his papers back up. Gareth helped, not sure what to say. “What was his prior engagement?”
“You said Mr. Hallisey had a prior engagement.”
“Oh,” Gareth said, scrambling to make something up. It felt too personal to reveal that Roman was collecting his things from the girl who’d just broken up with him, particularly when Gareth didn’t know the history between Roman and Captain Nochdvor. “He didn’t say.”
“Right. Well, when you see Roman,” Leandros said, and Gareth couldn’t help but notice the familiar use of Roman’s first name, “Tell him cowardice is unbecoming.”
“Uh,” Gareth said, eyebrows shooting up. “Sure.”
“He’ll know what I mean,” Leandros said with a pleasantly cold smile.
After Gareth and the others left, Leandros and Ochoa made their way upstairs together. The team had met on the Island this time, albeit tucked into the back recesses of Unity’s main office building, where no one ever ventured unless they were lost, and where nothing ever got cleaned or repaired, even when the paint chipped or the furniture rotted.
The hallways slowly grew taller and wider, but not yet wide enough that they didn’t have to press themselves against the wall when a white dragon came down the hall toward them, for fear of getting hit by its spiky tail. The further into the building they got, the more they had to fight their way through the congested traffic of Unity employees—the more Leandros had to fight, at least. Ochoa just followed in the path the taller alfar made for him. “Which way am I going?”
“Turn right at the end of the hall,” Ochoa said cheerfully.
Leandros had been looking back to speak to Ochoa, and when he turned back around, he stopped suddenly, finding himself face to face with an orinian. She smiled at Leandros’ abrupt stop; her smile widened when Ochoa ran into Leandros’ back.
Leandros didn’t concern himself with fashion—neither the flash of Alfheim nor the simple cuts of Gallontea. He wore what was comfortable, practical, and looked good on him. But this woman’s style was jarring, even for him. She wore a shapeless wool sweater made for someone twice her size and paired it with a long purple skirt decked in bells, glitter, and lace. Despite the sweater’s size, the sleeves were still too short for her long arms. She was tall and slim, with silky dark hair pulled into a messy bun and dark, jagged dirren cutting across her face.
“Eftychia!” Ochoa said, peering around Leandros. “You’re back!”
Eftychia waved at him, her entire face lighting up, then extended a slender hand toward Leandros. “Pleasure to meet you, Captain Nightingale. I do believe you’ve been waiting for me.”
Leandros blinked and automatically took her hand. He finally understood why this last teammate was so important— she was orinian. “Nochdvor,” he corrected.
“It’s a game she plays,” Ochoa said in an undertone, not quietly enough to keep Eftychia from hearing, but quiet enough that she could pretend she hadn’t.
“I like giving nicknames,” Eftychia said, falling into step beside Leandros as they continued walking, “And I like animals. It’s not a game. Dear Eresh is just upset because I’ve dubbed him an armadillo,” she said, looking back at Ochoa with a fond smile. “I said ferret first, Eresh, but you didn’t like that either!”
“And I’m a nightingale?”
“No,” Eftychia said easily, “I was just trying it out, but that one won’t fit. I’ll keep trying.”
“We’ll have plenty of time for it,” Leandros told her.
“Won’t that be wonderful? I love traveling on long journeys with new people. There’s nowhere better to pick them apart and learn what makes them run.”
Leandros gave her a sidelong look, but her expression remained sweet and open.
“How have you been enjoying Gallontea, Captain?” she asked.
“I haven’t seen much of it,” Leandros admitted. “Most of my time has been spent on this island.”
“Oh, I was hoping you’d say that!” Eftychia chirped, the bells on her skirt jingling as she gave a little skip. “Let me show you the city tomorrow! I simply cannot let you out of my sight until I figure out your nickname.”
“You’re going to have to,” Ochoa said, checking his watch. “We have a meeting with the Magistrates to get to, and you’re not invited.”
Leandros was surprised. Aside from Gareth, no one had made much of an effort to spend time with him socially, and even Gareth had cancelled their plans. Much as he disliked the idea of being picked apart, he was beginning to feel lonely. It had been a long time since he’d been away from Rheamarie and the rest of his family, and even then, he’d never been alone like this.
“I would love to join you, Ms. Jones. Thank you.”
“Eresh, you simply must come as well. I’ve missed you!”
“I suppose I could take a day off,” Ochoa said, glancing at Leandros for approval. “We’ve had time to get just about everything prepared while we waited for you, so there’s not much left to do.”
“It’s settled, then,” Eftychia said, beaming and clapping her hands like a child. “Let’s all meet at the bridge tomorrow morning.”
“Not too early,” Leandros said. He hadn’t taken a day off since he’d arrived, and he’d like to take advantage of it.
“Do you not like mornings?” Eftychia asked. “Oh, let me think, what kind of animal doesn’t like mornings?”
“A sloth,” Ochoa suggested, smugly.
“Hush, armadillo,” Leandros said.
Their group stopped in front of the grand doors to the Magistrates’ Offices. “We really must go, Chia,” Ochoa said.
“Oh, very well. It was a pleasure meeting you, Captain Jaguar. I’ll see you tomorrow!” Eftychia said, flouncing off. Her way of moving was hypnotic, loping and graceful.
“I wouldn’t mind if that one stuck,” Leandros called after her.
Eftychia turned and danced backward, grinning at him. It’s not right, but I’m getting closer!”
“She’s a strange one,” Ochoa said in an undertone. “Not quite right in the head, but smarter than she seems. She’ll be good to have with us.”
Leandros frowned. “She’s a part of the security team?”
Ochoa nodded. “Wait until you see her fight. She’s a bit childish, at times, but don’t worry. It’s worth putting up with.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Leandros said. He watched Eftychia disappear into the crowd. High above her head was a wide window, through which the dark silhouette of Unity’s prison and the barracks beside it were visible on the clean horizon of the Island’s edge.