Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles Book 2)

By: Ilona Andrews

Prologue


Come With Me

A man walked into a darkened room, moving on silent feet. He stopped by the round table, poured a glass of red wine from a bottle, and drank. A refined, slightly oaky taste washed over his mouth. He savored it, watching the stars rise outside an enormous window past the stone balcony. Muffled sounds of a ball filtered through the floor from below. It would be a good twenty minutes, perhaps half an hour, before anyone would discover the body in the office, neatly tucked in behind the desk. By that point he would be long gone.

He almost never did field work himself anymore. But this one, this one was special. Politically insignificant now but personally deeply satisfying. A hint of a smile curved his lips. He supposed some would call him cruel for killing an old man ravaged by magic and disease, and some would call him kind. He was neither. It was simply a thing that had to be done and he did it.

If his old mentor still ran things, he would have caught heat for this little outing. The smile dripped down into a narrow, sardonic frown. Nobody told him what to do anymore. Nobody had the right to berate him. Not even the Crown. He had accomplished far too much for any rebuke. In fact, if the current ruling family had any ambition, they would murder him out of principle, just to maintain power. Thankfully, they were far too civilized and complacent.

At twenty eight he had climbed the ladder of his chosen profession as high as he could. Life was no longer a challenge.

He was so mercilessly bored.

A pale star detached itself from its neighbors, curved over the sky, and drained down in a shower of pale glow onto the balcony. A dark-haired man stepped out of the light. Interesting. The spymaster sipped his wine.

The man wore jeans and a tattered cloak. Not from around here.

“I’m so glad I caught you,” the dark-haired man said. “You’re a hard man to get alone.”

Interesting choice of words. “Wine?”

“No, thanks. I’m on the clock. I’ll come straight to the point. Are you bored?”

The spymaster blinked.

“With this, I mean.” The man indicated the lavish room. “Shifting the future of countries and colonies. Rather small potatoes, don’t you think?”

“It has its moments.”

“How would you like to raise the stakes?” The dark-haired man smiled. “I represent a small but powerful organization. We’re known as Arbitrators. We specialize in dispute resolutions. You’re aware that Earth is but one of the planets in the solar system. There are many star systems and many planets out there. Many dimensions, many different realities even, to be specific. Once these inhabitants of the Greater Beyond decided to have a war. It went rather badly, so when the proverbial nuclear explosions settled, it was agreed that a powerful but neutral body for settling conflicts should be established. We would like to recruit you to be member of that fine body.”

Perhaps the man was insane. But if he weren’t…

“You will receive extensive training and granted funds to maintain your own staff. Sadly you will be forbidden from seeking independent sources of income until your terms of service is over. Nor can you return to your home planet until the expiration of your term.”

“How long is the term of service?”

“About twenty standard years. Most people prefer to do more. Nothing compares to preventing an interstellar war knowing billions of lives hang in the balance.” The man grinned. “It’s a bit of a rush.”

The spymaster felt his pulse rise and strained to hold it in check.

“We recruit only the best and I’m afraid the offer is made only once. You do not get to say goodbye.”

“So I must decide now?”

“Yes.”

The spymaster drained his glass.

Below someone screamed.

“And that’s our cue.” The dark-haired man smiled again. “Yes or no?”

“Yes.”

“Great.”

“My brother comes with me. I’d like to extend an offer of service to two others.”

“We can arrange that. Of course, you realize that the decision is up to them. We do not compel. We only entice.”

“I’m sure they’ll join me.”

A sound of feet thudding up the stairs rushed from the hallway.

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