The Way of the Brother Gods
said, her voice as smooth as her beautiful, dark skin. "I'll have my people bring her in. I'd have my assistant Garros do it but he's been avoiding me lately." She snatched a quick look in the back. "My, my, Faw-Faw, you sure do look handsome. I know we had a rough patch but I must tell you, you've been on my mind lately."
    "Rough patch?" Fawbry said. "You burned off my hand."
    "Bless your heart, you don't forget anything, do you? Now I know I was wrong, and I think I've shown y'all that I've changed when I helped you get rid of those nasty magicians, Jarik and Callib. What you don't know, though, is that part of that change was realizing all the good things I gave up along the way. And, Faw-Faw, my dear sweet man, you are one of those things."
    Fawbry blushed. Malja knew Cole Watts had charm to spare, but she was amazed at the brazenness the woman displayed.
    "We need help for Tommy," Malja said with a firm voice.
    "I certainly think so. One look at him and it's terribly clear he's in trouble."
    "Do you know what's wrong with him?"
    Cole chuckled. "Sweetie, I've only just seen him. He's grown quite a bit in the last few years, that's all I know. When we get to my place, we'll have him checked out. Don't worry about it." She patted Malja's knee. "Now, tell me all about what you've been up to. I do miss your darling way of handling things with such brute force."
    Malja swiped away Cole's hand. "We know about your town up north. Is that an example of you changing your ways?"
    Though she still wore a pleasant mask, all the warmth left Cole's face. "See, dear, right there. Brute force. Guess you haven't changed much either. Well, truth is, I've tried. When you all left me at the mansion, I spent months just playing with all the old technology there. The kitchen had ways to keep food fresh and cold as well as a machine that cooked food without a fire. Quite impressive what life had been like before the Devastation."
    Fawbry said, "We heard all about your special room for peeing."
    "There was one of those, yes," Cole said, glancing back with an amused wink. "Problem was I figured out how it all worked, what parts needed a magician's touch and what parts needed a mechanic's. It was fun and interesting but it didn't take long, and then I was bored. And my mind just kept turning back to the idea of a portal. All those worlds. I had come so close to doing it myself — I had done it really, just not in a way that could easily be repeated. Not without a roomful of musicians.
    "I tried to forget about it, do other things. I want you to know that. I really tried everything I could to leave it alone. I even prayed, which is not something I've ever done seriously — once to Korstra and once to Kryssta. Still, my mind toyed with me. Worked on the math in my head without creating the physical portal. That kind of game where you see how close you can get to what you shouldn't, and see at what point you feel guilty. It's a terrible thing to play, because eventually, you get comfortable with that sharp edge you walk, and so you step farther and farther out.
    "That's what happened to me. And one day, I walked too far. I just started up again. I knew you would be mad if you ever found out, but I also think you knew I'd do it. Maybe you even wanted me to do it. After all, you can't find your way home without a portal."
    Fawbry closed his eyes and shook his head. "Did you even see what happened to the people in that town? What you did to them?"
    Cole's mouth set into a thin line. "It was a horrible accident. It shouldn't have even come close to happening. We didn't realize that the power required to open a portal without magic was too great for the frame to hold. All my math suggested it would hold. It exploded so unexpectedly, and fire swept through the streets."
    "Why weren't you injured?" Malja asked.
    Cole lifted her chin as she drove on. "I ... I regret what I did. I admit that. Even though I underestimated how much power we would need, I still

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