scale, one of the extraordinarily rare beings born with almost unlimited potential. Jordan was at the low end of the scale. He was almost as tall as Merlin, but lacked the other man’s power in almost every respect. Jordan was fair, thin, pale-eyed, soft-voiced. Born with so little ability that he barely qualified as a wizard, he might have grown to resent those farther up the evolutionary scale than himself; instead, he had chosen to put his stronger talents of organization and efficiency to good use, and so served as a kind of administrative manager for the Council of Elders.
He met Merlin at O’Hare Airport, his cool Nordic looks and placid voice an island of tranquillity in a sea of bustling humanity, and led the way briskly to the dark, inconspicuous Lincoln he had left in a no-parking zone. Naturally there was no ticket. Merlin sat in the front beside Jordan, unwilling togive the appearance of being chauffeured, even though he was. He disliked ceremony and avoided it whenever possible. Especially whenever he was in the company of other wizards.
It was just after six o’clock, and since it was late autumn, it was both dark and chilly outside. A gloomy omen, Merlin thought, and instantly chided himself for the superstition.
“Where’s the meeting?” he asked, even though he was fairly sure he already knew.
Jordan didn’t turn his attention from the road. “The judge’s house, as usual,” he replied.
Merlin glanced at his driver, wondering idly and not for the first time why Jordan referred to the Council members by their positions or tides in the “real” world rather than their names. A mania for secrecy perhaps? If so, it was no wonder. The six men he served had in common a secret that would have rocked this technically advanced and cynical world if it had been made public.
The news wouldn’t have done wizards much good, either. Though Serena had been flippant when she had described another Salem witch hunt, the truth was that the discovery of wizards in their midst could certainly have the powerless population of the world both frightened and up in arms.
Hardly something anyone wanted to happen.
The remainder of the drive out of the city and into the suburbs was spent in silence. Almost an hour after leaving the airport, Jordan turned the big car into the driveway of a secluded mansion. The gates opened to admit them, and moments later the car drew to a stop near the bottom of wide brick steps leading to a front door.
“They’re already waiting for you in the study,” Jordan said as the two men got out of the car. “I’ll see that your bag is taken up to your room.”
In the short time it took Merlin to mount the steps, the massive front door opened to reveal a soberly dressed elderly man, the very image of an old-world butler.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Charles.” He shrugged out of his coat and handed it to the butler, then half consciously straightened his tie and shot his cuffs. Not because he was vain, but because a neat appearance was essential. A meeting of the Council of Elders demanded the semiformality of a suit; Merlin, at a much younger age, had once shown up in jeans, and it had been two years before he’d been allowed to forget that breach.
He wasn’t nervous, but he did pause in the foyer for a moment to collect himself.
“The study, sir.”
“Yes. Thank you, Charles.”
With a deliberate tread Merlin crossed the seeming acres of polished marble floor to the big double doors of the study. He knocked once, purely as a matter of form, and entered the room.
It was quite a room. Sixty feet long and forty wide with a fifteen-foot ceiling, it held two fireplaces large enough to roast whole steers without crowding, a row of enormous Palladian windows, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on either side of both fireplaces, and a marble floor. A huge, very old and beautiful Persian rug lay beneath the long table and dozen chairs placed squarely in the center of the room, and two