Dante glanced around the office, noting how little it had changed over the years. The room was large, but Spartan in its furnishings; just a few club chairs and rows of bookshelves covering three of the four walls. He ran his fingers along the intricately carved desk and smiled, remembering the craftsman who made it, and how angry John Adams had been when Dante had bought it out from under him. Of course, it’d been nothing compared to Abigail’s fury. But it would’ve been a shame if it had burned with the White House in 1814. So much history, he thought.
He looked at the computer and three monitors that now sat upon it. Then he turned his gaze to the sprawling Boston cityscape beyond the windows. He was going to miss this office almost as much as his position as magister, but then, he could never have passed up a promotion like the one he’d been given.
“And so much change,” he said quietly.
“What?” Faolan asked, looking up from the massive table in the middle of the room.
“Nothing,” Dante said, looking at the new magister and content at least that this region was going to be in good hands.
He joined Faolan and looked down at the large touchscreen that made up the table’s surface. He studied the map on display. The western two-thirds were littered with a rainbow of virtual pushpins. “What do the colors mean?”
“Yellow means confirmed reports of more than a hundred,” Faolan said, tapping the pins over Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, and Chicago. With each tap, a different number displayed briefly next to the pin.
Dante swallowed back the taste of bile.
“Blue is more than fifty.” Faolan tapped the pins over Minneapolis, St. Louis, Nashville, and Indianapolis.
Dante shook his head, his shoulder-length hair falling around his face. “All changelings?”
“Yes, and more than ninety-five percent are kids.”
Dante’s stomach knotted as his luminescent green eyes swept over the mass of black pins scattered across the map—there had to be hundreds of them. “Do I even want to ask what black means?”
Faolan let out a breath. “Unconfirmed by Rogue Court sources and being investigated further.”
Dante looked up. “How many before you note it worth investigation?”
Faolan ran a hand through his short auburn hair and his blue eyes dimmed to gray. “We’re getting reports from everywhere. Even after pooling resources with Brigid in the Middle Region, we don’t have enough marshals to investigate everything. The threshold started at a dozen, but we had to raise it when we reached two hundred cities.”
“And the mortal authorities aren’t looking into it?” Dante asked.
Faolan grimaced. “There’s not a big demand to investigate missing street kids. Not only are they usually transient, but most people don’t like to think about them.” He shook his head. “I’m not making excuses, but it’s a matter of limited resources. It’s just as likely a kid or group of kids packed up and went to a different city. It isn’t that they don’t care—”
“There’s only so much they can do,” Dante said.
Dante let out a long sigh. “I was so focused on the Eastern Region—”
“And look,” Faolan said, gesturing to the east coast, “just four black pins from Canada to Cuba. You had a third of the country under your purview, and there are fewer missing changelings than in any single state.”
Dante patted Faolan’s shoulder. “I appreciate the thought, but that’s not much comfort to those—” He winced. “At least two hundred and fifty missing kids.” He took a deep breath and his eyes drifted to a yellow pin in Seattle. “What about the magister of the New Western Region? Still no word?”
Faolan made a disgusted face. “No. I’ve tried repeatedly to see if Donovan could spare some marshals.” He looked away. “I’ve had to rely on, um, local sources.”
Dante’s eyebrows rose.
Faolan didn’t say anything, but the ghost of a smile appeared at one corner of his thin lips.
Dante chuckled a little. “Well, I suppose you’re entitled to your secrets.”
“Thank you, Magis—” Faolan winced. “Sorry, Regent, I—”
Dante shrugged. “It’s okay, I’m still getting used to it myself.” He turned his attention back to the map, noting several white pins were almost hidden from view by the mass of black, green, and yellow. “What do those represent?”
Faolan straightened up and crossed his arms. “That’s the really odd thing. They mark reports of wizards.”
Dante looked at Faolan with wide eyes. “Wizards? In all those cities?”
Faolan nodded. “And not just one in each. From most cities, we’re receiving reports of dozens.”
Dante’s mouth fell open. “Dozens?”
“At least.” Faolan pursed his lips. “And almost without exception, they’re also homeless kids.”
“That can’t be a coincidence.”
“I don’t think so either,” Faolan said. “But I have no idea how someone could start spawning wizards.”
“I don’t either,” Dante said. “Any idea where this all began?”
“The reports are so scattered, it’s hard to pin down a timeline.”
Dante arched an eyebrow. “You’re saying you don’t know? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard you say those words before.”
Faolan chuckled. “I don’t know yet, but I will. We’re trying to work backwards, but like I said, our information isn’t good.”
“I’ll start looking into it.”
Faolan opened his mouth to object.
“I have some, um, free time on my hands recently, what with someone else managing the day-to-day business.” Dante forced a smile. “Besides, I’m responsible for all three regions now. And didn’t you say we’re stretched thin?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“I’m open to other ideas if you have any.”
Faolan thought for a moment, then closed his mouth and shook his head.
“I know I don’t need to ask—” Dante started.
“I’ll make sure the queen mother and her family are well looked after,” Faolan said.
“Should I make you some road-trip playlists?” Faolan asked through a smile.
Dante shook his head. “No, but I’ll take some weapons.” He thought for a moment, then added, “and some tokens of favor.”
Dante nodded at the map. “If your reports are even just half right, that’s more than a thousand changeling kids missing. Combine that with the sudden explosion of mortals skilled in the craft, and we have something potentially world changing going on.”
“That’s why I called you in,” Faolan said.
Dante sighed and ran his fingers through his long blond hair. “I’m sorry it took me so long to get here.”
“You were otherwise occupied.” Faolan patted his shoulder. “It’s been a hard six months for all of us. Besides, when I first mentioned it, I only knew Donovan wasn’t responding to any court messages. The time gave me a chance to collect what you’re looking at now.”
Dante looked at the map, imaging the faces of the countless children who were lost and forgotten. “Even so, how many of these disappearances could we have prevented if I’d become involved sooner?”
“With all due respect,” Faolan said, “this isn’t your fault or responsibility. You had your hands more than full with the Cruinnigh and the aftermath of a failed insurrection. On top of that, we just didn’t know.”
Dante could see the weight of responsibility settling in behind Faolan’s blue eyes. “No, but we should have.”
Faolan sighed. “Well, I can’t argue with that.”
“So let’s make sure there are no more pins.”