Asanti stood before the court.
Monsignors Fox and Umber watched her from the bench before the empty cardinal’s seat, while other prelates waited in the wings. Fox rubbed his eyes and clutched his coffee. Angels warred with devils on the arched ceiling, and Adam and Eve sheltered in place. Everyone looked like they’d rather be anywhere but here.
Everyone except Asanti.
She was a pillar in a gold dress. She was indomitable. She stared up at the bench as if she were staring down.
The audience packed into the narrow courtroom. The sole empty chair belonged to the cardinal, and that only because the Society still lacked one, after months of debate. Angiuli had been the presumptive candidate—but he was gone now, having withdrawn his name from consideration for the position and from the Society itself. The audience swelled with Society functionaries, trusted ministers, and sharks smelling blood in the water.
Menchú squeezed into the front row beside Sal and Grace and Liam, themselves squeezed by Asanti’s assistants, minus poor Frances. He felt surprised both by how many faces he recognized, and how many he didn’t. Hilary Sansone, of course, across the aisle, crystal calm and cool as ever. Thavani Shah sat in the second row with her team, including Lynne Soo, who still walked with crutches after her fight with Grace in the catacombs last year. He even recognized Siegfried, the door guard. Nurses from the clinic, file clerks from Team Two, Swiss Guards, mailroom attendants, all the hangers-on even Menchú seldom remembered, the unglamorous support staff without which no organization, secret or not, could run. They didn’t get enough credit. Of course, they didn’t get killed as often, either.
Menchú clasped his hands, and tried not show his nerves. He’d last been here after the Tornado Eaters fiasco, after Bouchard’s death, when he and Sal and the whole team had been arraigned for incompetence. The hearings following Cardinal Varano’s indictment had been held elsewhere, in the high and private offices where cardinals were brought to task—or not—for their misdeeds. Back under Varano, the death of a team leader, the use of magic on American soil, had been regrettable inconveniences, not in themselves, but for the paperwork they generated; the hearing’s point had been to offer an impression of action without actually taking any. Varano would never have allowed an audience like this.
Not that Menchú wanted the old man back. Cardinal Varano had been a horrible human being—racist, obstructionist, condoning slaughter and torture so long as they made his life easier. Under his rule, Asanti might have been quietly—and deniably—killed. Now, if she died, there would be people watching.
“This feels different from when I was up there,” Sal said, beside him.
“That was an inquest,” he said. “This is a trial.”
“Can they actually . . . sentence her?” She sounded disgusted by the prospect.
Menchú didn’t blame her. He did not hate the Society—not often. But some questions, Sal’s among them, forced him to consider what the organization to which he’d given his life had been before he joined. What work it had done in the world, who it had hurt, and why. The Society must have been in Guatemala during the conquest. What magic had his ancestors used against the church he served? What happened to them afterward? “The Society is very old,” he said, because there was no space to say the rest. “Its rules and punishments were framed in a different time.”
“And nobody changed them? Amended them?”
Sal could be so American sometimes. “Customs change faster than written law. That is, for example, why you were not formally tried—an investigative committee can censure and reprimand, but it cannot punish.”
“But this is a formal trial.”
He did not want to answer that question. “Yes.”
“So Asanti could—”
“We hope not,” he said, too quickly.
Sal blinked. “Wait. How does that go with the whole seamless garment of life thing?”
“The Society’s methods and rules are older,” he said. “She may be exiled. She may be killed outright, though that’s . . . unpalatable for many. More likely, they will confine her. There are cells—dark, empty rooms where no one goes, rooms without visitors or books. A woman could live a long time in those cells. They have not been used in a very long time, but they are kept up to code, in case.”
“She’ll go mad.”
“They will bring her a pill,” he said, “every day, with dinner. It used to be a cup, back when we were less good at poison. Whether she chooses to take the pill is up to her.”
He didn’t make the obvious joke. It felt too cruel. “No one has been sentenced in at least two hundred years.”
“When was the last formal trial?”
The only answer he could give to that was a change of subject. “Asanti will be fine. She has an excellent canon lawyer. Everything she did, she did to save Belfast, and the world. We’re only alive now because of her. And custom is powerful—nobody on...