“I don’t like it,” Menchú said.
Asanti sighed. “We’ve been over this before.”
“And we’ll go over it again.”
“I suspect we will,” Asanti said.
Asanti and Menchú sat across from each other at her desk in the center of the restored Black Archives. Her acolytes, she was sure, could hear their voices rising. She watched as Menchú took a deep breath, calming himself down, collecting his thoughts.
But they were arguing about magic—in a way, about the mission—and Asanti knew how personal it was for Menchú. He blamed himself for destroying his hometown, as she’d known soon after meeting him. It had driven him away from magic, toward the Society. She wondered if she would ever force Menchú to the point where he would lose himself in the heat of the argument and say something he couldn’t take back. She wondered if she, too, would ever reach that point. She made herself a promise, right then, that she would do everything she could to prevent that from happening. That she would always try to back off, to remind herself that she cared too much about Menchú and the rest of the team to create a rift between them.
“There is a fundamental problem with the Society using magic to fight magic,” Menchú said.
“Team One uses magic all the time,” Asanti said. “And so do we.”
She gestured toward the Orb. The manual she and Frances were using to decipher it was right in front of her—Menchú had interrupted her mid-paragraph—and she ran her hands again over the characters on the page. Her initial excitement at its discovery had led to a nagging frustration, as the manual had proven to be, well, hard to use. Should I have expected otherwise? she wondered. No. But still: There she was, a polyglot, an expert in her field, in possession of one of the best libraries about magic in the world, and still far too much of the knowledge contained in this book was out of reach. She wanted to call her dissertation advisor, but he was long gone; she missed him. She wanted to contact Perry, as she thought he might know something, but was unsure even how to reach him.
“The Orb is different,” Menchú said.
“Is it? It seems from this book that it can do far more than we ever thought it could. It was built for us to use.”
Menchú sighed again.
“Arguing with you point for point about this is a frustrating exercise,” he said, “when all I am really saying is that I disagree with you on a general principle about the reason for the Society’s existence—its mission. Until very recently, I thought you accepted that mission.”
“I do accept it.”
“Then what has changed?” Menchú asked.
Now it was Asanti’s turn to pause. What, indeed?
“The Hand got too close,” she said.
“That was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence,” Menchú answered. “It will not happen again on our watch.”
“How can you be so certain?”
“When was the last time a demon was in the Vatican?”
“I don’t think that’s the right way to think about it,” Asanti said. “You don’t hear the chatter like Liam and I do. There are rumors that the balance is shifting. That bigger things are coming. And I don’t think we’re prepared.”
“And you think experimenting with magic will change that?”
“Do you have any better ideas?”
“No,” Menchú said, “but that’s irrelevant. It’s not necessary for us to have better ideas. It’s necessary for us to contain magic.”
“I know that,” Asanti said. “Please know that I know that.”
Menchú paused again.
“Just please tell me,” he said, “that you are doing this because you really think it will make our work better. Not because you are following some personal impulse.”
“That is not what I am doing,” Asanti said.
“But I’ve seen it in you before,” Menchú said. “Do not deny that it’s there.”
“It’s there,” Asanti said. “It is.” Which was when she saw her opening. She sharpened her tone, moved in to slit this argument’s throat. “But I would never jeopardize you, or anyone on Team Three, or anyone here at the Vatican, for a passion project. I thought you knew me better—and had more respect for me—than to suggest that.”
She watched, with a little satisfaction, as Menchú’s expression softened, became conciliatory.
“I didn’t mean to suggest that,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Asanti said. “And I know this conversation isn’t over. For now, I’m just asking you to trust me.”
“I do,” he said.
“All right. Then let me get back to work.”
She returned to her book. Shook her head. Menchú was right. The Orb was a puzzle to fix, a problem to solve, and it let her lean into the curiosity that had brought her to study magic in the first place, that had brought her to the Vatican. She wanted to know how it worked.
And the visit behind Team Four’s door had put another thought in her head: that she had to find out just what might have happened to them. It occurred to her that the official statement on Team Four—that they had been excommunicated, removed from the Church—did not in fact suggest that the team had been destroyed. There was no...