The Second Siege
points of reflected moonlight shining bright among the deep greens of the darkening field. Giving the rat a final nudge, the lymrill licked its muzzle clean and stood to dig at the thick turf with its lethal, curling claws. With a sudden happy mewl, Nick bolted away, kicking up clumps of grass as he ran, and Max chased after.
    By the time Max trudged back to the Manse, the campus was dark. A conspicuous exception, however, were the windows of Ms. Richter’s office. Light streamed from a slim gap in the drawn curtains, spilling onto the flagged patio. Shapes moved across the opening—apparently there were several people in the Director’s office. The drapes parted momentarily and Max saw Dr. Rasmussen standing at the window, surveying the orchard while speaking rapidly. With a scowl, the leader of the Frankfurt Workshop pulled the drapes shut once again. Max glanced at his watch; it was well past midnight. He wondered what would necessitate such a late meeting.
    Max soon discovered the reason. In a wood-paneled room off the Manse’s foyer, some two dozen pajama-clad students were gathered in stunned silence before a large television. Julie Teller was among the group, wedged into a leather couch and looking horror-stricken as she stared at the screen. A bleary-eyed anchorman was speaking, his tone eerily calm.
    “Today’s events are an unprecedented tragedy. For those viewers just joining us, five world leaders are dead and several others are missing under highly suspicious circumstances. While few details are available at this time, authorities believe the incidents to be linked and are acting accordingly. All domestic and international air travel has been temporarily suspended, as has trading across most global exchanges. The president has been moved to an undisclosed location and will address the American people later today . . . .”
    Max stood speechless as the report went on to detail the ministers, presidents, and premiers who were dead or missing. There did not seem to be any pattern of wealth, politics, or popularity of the leaders. They were scattered across continents and regions, representing nations rich and poor. When the anchorman began to repeat his report, Max crossed quickly over to Julie and knelt next to the sofa.
    “When did they start reporting this?” he asked her quietly.
    She glanced at him as though gazing through a ghost. Her face blanched, and she scooted off the couch to hurry from the room. Utterly perplexed, Max followed and called after her, but she ignored him, scampering quickly across the foyer and up the staircase toward the girls’ dormitories. Max stood in the foyer, staring at the gleaming floor, while Julie’s steps pattered away.
    Other footsteps—quick and purposeful—sounded from the corridor that led to Ms. Richter’s office. Cooper emerged into the foyer. Without so much as a glance at Max, the Agent strode out into the night.

4
    T HE R IDDLE AND THE R ED B RANCH V AULT

    T wo weeks later, Bellagrog was holding court, as she was wont to do in the late afternoon. Max could hear her contagious laugh rumbling in the distance as he walked toward the Manse on a day when wood smoke was in the air and the leaves were tinged with orange and yellow. A splendid white goose waddled alongside him, pausing periodically to ensure that the dozen goslings behind them were keeping up and staying out of mischief.
    “So, no words of wisdom?” asked Max. “I mean, we wrote each other all summer and now she won’t even look at me. . . .”
    “I won’t pretend to understand teenage girls,” sighed the goose. “I’ve seen over two hundred classes come through this school, and while times change, the teenage girl remains a fickle, mysterious beast. You should find yourself a nice selkie.”
    Max smiled as Hannah buffeted him playfully with her wing.
    “You’re too young to be heartbroken,” she continued. “That job’s been taken by this gorgeous goose who was left high and dry

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