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The Veiled Diplomat

The Veiled Diplomat

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Book 3 of the Reluctant Assassin series

When a mysterious building suddenly appears in the city of sorcery, only Zayn and his team suspect its true menace. To protect the Hundred Halls, they must deploy their full array of skills to reveal and counteract the building's dangerous purpose before disaster strikes.


Even a master assassin can be foiled.

Divination—the magic of seeing the future—provides peace in the realms, because no one can launch a war or assassination without being discovered. But when a strange building appears in the city of sorcery, everyone believes it's benign—everyone except Zayn and his teammates. To save the Hundred Halls, they must use all their talents to deceive and uncover its purpose before it's too late.

Chapter One Look Inside

Chapter One
Near the Spire, August 2015
Complications with a side of innuendo

The city of sorcery seemed different to Zayn on his first morning back, and it wasn't just the strange golden beam emanating from the second ward like some crazy spotlight for a retro-disco party. He caught Keelan's eye as they stepped off the all-night train from Atlanta.
"Something seem weird to you?" asked Keelan with his eyebrow raised.
"Like the city is a little insubstantial?" asked Zayn, adjusting the backpack slung over his right shoulder.
"I was going to say glittering—no, that's not right. Maybe like it has a halo."
As he moved out of the way of the other train passengers, Zayn blinked hard, trying to clear the fuzziness from his vision.
"It's like that weird haze that collects in the valley south of the junkyard on some mornings that makes it look like another realm," said Zayn.
"Yeah," said Keelan, his voice far away. "Maybe there's a festival or something."
"We'll find out soon enough," said Zayn.
They headed towards the gondola station. The air was cool for August. He could smell rain in the air though there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
To their surprise, Vin and Portia were waiting at the station. Vin was dressed like a male model, with a two-hundred-dollar haircut and an expensive tight-fitting suit that cinched at his midsection. He gave them each a big hug. He'd spent the summer working as an intern for a congressman in DC. It was a job that Priyanka had set up for him.
"How was the swamp?" asked Keelan.
"Not as bad as I thought it'd be," said Vin.
"Says the guy that the swamp ate," said Portia. "You look like a pimp for a high-end escort business."
Vin acted like he was smoothing lint from his lapel. "Compliment accepted. I was working on blending in, for, you know—"
"Another heist," finished the rest of the team, including Skylar, who had just entered the room.
"What the Merlin?" said Portia, staring at Skylar, who had shaved her long silky black hair down to a short stubble. She was wearing a bulky army jacket, black jeans, and heavy boots.
Skylar looked a little apprehensive at the way the rest of the team was staring at her. "Uhm, hey guys. Is everything, like, okay?"
"Yeah, just processing," said Vin with his eyes slightly bugged out.
"I shaved it a few days ago," said Skylar, running her hand over the fuzz. "It's not too extreme, is it?"
"No," said Portia, who reached out and vigorously rubbed Skylar's head with two hands. "It's amazing. I love it. Is this Ripley from Alien? Or maybe Evey from V for Vendetta?"
"I'm just surprised," said Keelan. "I like it, but I'm surprised. Doesn't it go against your fashionista plans?"
While looking back over her shoulder as if she could see into Los Angeles, Skylar snarled her lips. "This summer was a disaster. I love clothes, makeup, the whole deal, but dealing with those awful people all summer, coming into the boutique, treating us like crap. I hated it." She shook her head, looking at her boots. "So I'm taking a break. I figured this was as far away from fashionable as I could get."
Vin scrunched up his mouth. "A million stoner girls just shed a tear."
"Enough about me," said Skylar, poking them each rapidly. "What the hell did you guys do all summer?"
"I got dirt on people while looking fly," said Vin, spreading his arms out in a ta-da motion.
Portia held up her arm. A nasty curved scar went down the length of her forearm. "I hiked the PCT, from Mexico to Canada. A manticore attacked me on a mountain in Oregon. I scared it away, but it got me with a tail spike."
The others looked at Zayn and Keelan, and then Keelan looked at him. Zayn opened his mouth to speak, but he and his cousin hadn't talked about all that had happened during the summer. He'd meant to on the train ride up, but Keelan had slept the whole way.
"I mean, it's Varna," said Zayn with a shrug. "What is there to do?"
He could tell by the way they looked at him that they knew he was obfuscating, but it was the first day back, and they were giving him a pass.
"The gondola's here," said Vin.
They approached the gondola from the student line. When they got up to the front, the attendant, a grotesquely long-limbed guy who was probably from Oestomancium Hall pulled aside the velvet rope.
"Zayn, Keelan, Skylar, Portia, Vin?" he rattled off, reading from a piece of paper.
He stepped out of the way, motioning for them to get inside. "This one is yours, private car."
No one said anything, because they didn't have to. This was strange, but they weren't about to question it...yet. When the door closed and the car lurched into motion, Skylar said, "What's going on? Where's the rest of the class?"
"I was wondering that myself," said Zayn.
Portia snapped her fingers. "Did you guys sense something when you first came to the city? Like you'd stepped into a Dr. Alt painting?"
"I don't know that painter, but yeah, it was strange for us too," said Keelan. "Though by the time I reached the gondola station, it was gone."
Everyone was shaking their heads.
"Whoa," said Vin. "Check that out."
The team turned towards the second ward. North of the Glitterdome, past the rows of theaters with their spectacular illusions beckoning potential ticket buyers, an enormous building was being constructed. The details were hidden behind massive wooden privacy walls, but from the top, a golden beam of light brightened the sky.
The beam was as wide as four city buses, and when it slipped into the cloud layer, the edges sparkled as if it were being refracted a million times. Zayn almost expected it to be making a humming noise from its intensity.
"There must be dozens of stone singers working on that building. I can't imagine how much it costs," said Vin.
"Forget the building. Do you know how much land costs on that street? You might as well ask to build on the front lawn of the White House," said Skylar, shaking her head.
"Does anyone know what it is?" asked Keelan.
An uneasy feeling swirled in Zayn's gut. Something about it felt familiar, but he couldn't place his finger on it.
"I think that's what caused that weird feeling when we got to the city," said Zayn, speaking without really thinking about it.
Everyone nodded in agreement while they kept their faces plastered to the window.
"We're headed to the seventh ward," said Portia.
Zayn squeezed his face against the glass, watching the city pass below, which made him remember his first days in the Hundred Halls, when the gondola ride to the Spire had been a terrifying experience. Now he knew he'd miss the city when he had to return to Varna for the final time. But thankfully, that wasn't for another two and a half years.
When he glanced at Keelan, his heart grew heavy. After they'd learned the truth about Keelan's father, Zayn thought Keelan might have given up on becoming a Watcher, but he wasn't so sure about that after the events of the summer.
Instructor O'Keefe was waiting for them at the gondola station, wearing a kilt and a concerned expression.
With business-like efficiency, O'Keefe marched the other way when they climbed out of the gondola. Since she hadn't spoken, no one said a word as they followed her to a residential street with three-story brownstones stacked next each other.
Instructor O'Keefe brought them to a brownstone in the middle of the block with a white door and a brick front. A wave of her hand revealed runes on the welcome mat, which she disarmed with a whisper.
Inside, O'Keefe, wearing a sour expression, spread her arms wide. "Congratulations, this is your home for your third year in the Academy."
Zayn glanced around the modestly furnished house. There were stains on the stucco ceiling and the dining room table was dinged up. It had a slightly moldy smell as if the last residents hadn't done a good job keeping it clean.
"Why not the Honeycomb?" asked Keelan with his lips curled. "Third years didn't live out of the Hall last year."
"Actually, they did, laddie. We put a spell on ya so you wouldn’t know. Can't go ruining the fun you're gonna have this year," she said.
Somehow, Zayn didn't think his definition of fun matched hers.
Instructor O'Keefe glanced out the window in the direction of the second ward. "Schooling will continue, don't you worry about that, though some of your instructors will be different from years past."
"Will class be at the Honeycomb?" asked Vin.
Instructor O'Keefe pursed her lips with consternation. "Sometimes. There's a portal in the back of the Blackest Cup coffee shop on the next street over. It's owned by an alumni, so no worries. One of your classmates will be along with your books and your class schedules." She glanced around looking like she was suddenly late for an appointment. "I should go. Good luck this year."
The instructor whisked out the front door, leaving Zayn and his team bewildered. There were a lot of shared glances. Zayn felt like he'd been pushed off a truck in the middle of nowhere.
Before anyone else could say anything, Portia said, "Is it just me or does anyone else feel like this is a trap?"
At that moment, somewhere in the back of the house, a door slammed shut.

Main Tropes

  • Urban Fantasy
  • Magical Academy
  • Found Family
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