As much as he wanted to go to Rowen, the first place Kristoff stopped was the governor’s office.
"Kristoff?" Lissa jolted her head up from sheaves of paper on her desk, pencil in hand. "I didn’t expect you. Were you out working?”
"No, well, I wasn’t clearing a heat spell…I need to see the governor," Kristoff said. Lissa paused at his tone, meeting Kristoff’s eyes for a moment before she headed to Lorana's office. She beckoned when she returned. "She'll see you now. Is there something wrong?"
Kristoff shook his head and walked past her, closing the office door behind him.
Lorana, seated at her desk by an enormous window overlooking the ocean, waved for him to take a seat. “Report, Stormlord,” she said. “Is something going on with your apprentice?”
Kristoff ground his back teeth together, resisting the urge to tap his foot. This was his governor, and the leader of all the Stormlords. He took a breath, then spat it out. "The heat spells over the southwest are far worse than we think," he said. "People are...people have died. We don't act fast enough. We didn’t act fast enough last time.”
Lorana closed her eyes as if pained. "I know."
"You know?!" Kristoff boomed, leaping up from his seat. “You know people died because we were too slow?!”
Lorana’s eyes narrowed. "Kristoff, you may be powerful and have a student of your own, but you're only twenty one. Barely removed from your training. Before you shout, listen to me."
Kristoff stood, anger and shock simmering on his skin. The sight of the graves wouldn't leave his mind.
Lorana’s voice was smooth. "There are currently seventy-five storm lords currently residing on this island. Of those, only fifteen have the power to dispel moderate heat spells on their own. The others require various amounts of help. Of those fifteen who can dispel alone, all have innate talents-lightning, or working with frozen air, or working in dry air, or only being able to work with ocean water of a certain temperature." She lifted a hand. "You, for example, have the power create hurricanes, but are not nearly as effective in cold climates."
Kristoff nodded. He could see where this was going.
"I have to prioritize. And sometimes, dispelling a heat spell over a city of a hundred thousand is more important than dispelling one over a village of three hundred." She closed her eyes again for a moment as though the words hurt. They probably did. "Furthermore, the heat in the southwestern wastes is approaching uncontrollable levels. In two dozen years, maybe less, I predict that region will be lost."
Lost. “Like the regions lost already? Like Darsea?” Kristoff's heart twisted for Rowen. What would it be like, to be completely alone, a refugee from a dead people? The Darseans had fled from their homes ages ago. Darsea was…in the south. “The heat is spreading, isn’t it?”
"It is best that the people there realize that fact and leave, rather than relying on us," Lorana finished, meeting Kristoff's eyes. "Now if you still want to shout at me, you may."
Kristoff realized then how many gray hairs Lorana had, and how wrinkled the skin around her eyes was. “Do all Stormlords know?”
“They all figure it out. They have to. I am surprised you hadn’t yet, Kristoff. The world is dying, and we’re its last line of defense. We’re fighting a war against the environment, and in war…we lose people. We have to make hard choices. Sometimes that means delaying saving a village to save a city. Sometimes that means letting nature take its course, and giving the people there reason to leave before its too late.” She sighed. “That village should have migrated north years ago.”
Kristoff wanted to shout at her, to argue, to repeat the same points he had before. But it was pointless. He knew better than anyone how hard everyone worked, and how common heat spells were.
And there were so few students. If things went on like this, they would lose—not just one region, but the world.
“I’m sorry for this, Kristoff. But we must keep working.”
Kristoff nodded, turning and leaving the room without being told.
He had been an idiot. Dazzled by his own power, he had been convinced that he was a hero, a savior. A god, like the villagers had called him. But he was just another man using whatever talents he could to stave off nature, the same as any engineer or sailor. And he could fail. He had failed that village, for three weeks, while people died. He had failed it before, and Rowen’s parents had died.
No wonder Rowen hadn’t seemed to trust him when he had said they saved towns and villages before death could occur. Rowen would despise him, and all of them.
But Kristoff had to tell him. The last thing he wanted would be for Rowen to find out the same way Kristoff had, years in the future, living in a bubble of ignorance like a fool. Kristoff would be honest with Rowen. He owed him that much.