“Where’s Ezra?” I asked, my lids drooping.

Jack and Pearl shrugged, their worried eyes traveling from me to scan the room, just now noticing he wasn’t here.

“Where is he?” I whispered, getting sleepy, my lids closing completely.

I felt King Venclaire shift, and a second later, his mouth was next to my ear, and he breathed, “Elder Zeller forcibly removed him from the room. No one else saw because of their speed.”

I blinked my eyes open. “Huh?”

“Ezra was,” a pause, “upset when King Kincaid attacked you.”

“Oh,” I breathed. “That’s sweet.”

King Venclaire chuckled against my ear even as more pops sounded from my body. “I don’t think King Kincaid would have found it very sweet.”

“I took care of him,” I grumbled more loudly.

Pearl stated, “And got your ass kicked in the meantime.”

“No more than he did,” I retorted lazily, grinning when I heard a growl nearby.

“I said to keep her quiet,” Elder Merrick barked. A heavy grunt. “And we need the medic once he’s done with her.”

I chuckled, but whispered, “See? What did I tell you?”

Jack’s expression was still worried, but he did glance at the ceiling and bar. “Remind me never to piss you off.”

Pearl looked at the crack on the wall where I had hit. “Or King Kincaid.”

The Mage’s hands started to glow more, and I heard my shoulder pop loudly before he leaned down and whispered at my ear, “Your fallopian tubes?”

I stiffened just as King Venclaire did at my side, able to hear him, too. I was sure the Mage could sense I’d had them magically tied. And now King Venclaire knew something was up with them. I said through gritted teeth, “Don’t fix them.”

The Mage paused, but nodded before raising his hands to my head, not asking any more questions but instead beginning to fix whatever was injured with my skull. But that one question had been enough. I glanced at King Venclaire, and his eyes were on mine. Sighing, I whispered, “I don’t want children right now.” Truth.

King Venclaire stared hard. “King Kincaid was right about you being still too young and inexperienced about some issues to know what you’re talking about.”

I shifted my eyes away from him and kept my mouth shut.

“Okay, let’s try this again,” King Venclaire stated. “Without the added,” his eyes met mine, “commentary this time.”

My lips thinned, but I nodded.

We were sitting around the conference table again. Ezra had returned to the room and sat across from me with his boots on the table, his eyes lowered to Bonnie — as they had been the entire time since he reappeared — who had jumped into his lap and lain on her back, while he ran his fingers up and down her belly. Not to mention Clyde, who was glued to me, his paws heavy on my chest and his head on my shoulder. Anyone would think he was asleep, except that his tail kept twitching in distress.

I rubbed his back comfortingly and listened as King Venclaire outlined what we would be doing. Which would be to go on four separate missions to find the new, young Prodigies, while only being allowed to pick one Elder to go with us. A spell, almost like a compass, would lead us to them, the spell telling us when we had found the correct individual. Also, the picked Elders were not allowed to intervene once the journey began, only along for the ride, unless our lives were in danger…then they could start killing any Com they saw fit, in order to save us.

How sweet.

I raised my hand politely, and King Venclaire sighed in exasperation but gestured for me to speak. “No one ever did that for me.” I paused, my eyes swinging to the still irritated King Kincaid. “I know the mate gets the power, but you still never did that.”

King Kincaid’s jaw clenched. “I did do it. You just didn’t realize it. It’s something that has to be done even if we know the truth plainly enough.” He rubbed his chest, glancing away from me. “You were in bed asleep when the spell found you.”

I blinked. “Oh.” Nice to know he had snuck in on me when I was vulnerable, and I hadn’t even noticed him. I glanced with irritation at King Venclaire. “That’s all.”

“How fortunate,” he muttered before stating loudly, “You’ll all be leaving as soon as you’re crowned.”

All four of us froze.

King Venclaire clapped once. “The other Kings and I need to begin helping the Elders with the war they believe inevitable. We have more contacts at our disposal, so it’s time for the four of you to become the faces and names of our people.”

I raised my hand again.

Elder Jacobs sighed, “Are you f**king kidding?”

“Obviously, she’s not,” Ezra hissed, his eyes still down. “So shut the hell up.”

King Venclaire gazed at me with forced patience when Elder Jacobs glared at Ezra. “Yes, Lily?”

I cleared my throat. “Won’t it worry our subjects to have,” another clearing of my throat, “young and inexperienced Rulers when a war is approaching?”

King Kincaid smiled. It wasn’t his nice fatherly one. “Everyone knows the Elders are who really rule when a war erupts.” His smile turned satisfied. “You won’t have only me to listen to. All the Kings’ and Queens’ actions are a majority of the time dictated by,” a pause, “the Elders’ decisions.”

Perfect. I needed to find that damn history book. Again, I was thinking too much like a Com. Playing it smart for the first time since entering this conference room, I kept my mouth shut as King Venclaire walked to Ezra.

King Venclaire stared down at him until he eventually looked up. And now I saw why Ezra had kept his gaze down, hidden beneath his lashes. His eyes were slightly glowing and his furious expression was only barely masked. King Venclaire didn’t seem surprised by it, and he held Ezra’s gaze with unfeigned tolerance.

“There’s no time for fanfare or parties. We need this done immediately and have the four of you back here as soon as possible so we can begin our duties as Elders.” King Venclaire pulled the red and black ring off his finger. “Do you have your Prodigy ring with you?”

Ezra grunted and leaned on one hip as he dug into his pocket, holding Bonnie carefully with his other hand. “You told me to always keep it with me.” He pulled a smaller version of the King’s ring out of his pocket. “I listened.”

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