Korin spent the next morning doing chores around the guesthouse. He checked all the lights, re-enchanting any that were fading. Incinerated the sewage pit. Freshened the wards against insects. No serious magic, but all services Marta wouldn’t have to pay for again for at least the next month. It was nice to feel helpful, even if only in small ways. Or maybe best to feel helpful in small ways. It was the big ways that got you in trouble.

All the while, he tried not to think of Ádan.

They’d talked through the afternoon. Or rather, Ádan had talked and Korin had tried not to let show how much he loved listening. Ádan was funny, but more than that, he was smart and perceptive and the stories he told Korin about his adventures in Triome were so detailed and engaging Korin felt a little like he’d lived them.

When Ádan got super excited about something, he started talking with his hands, those long, slender firstborn fingers dancing through the air like they were playing an instrument. Or when he was making a serious point, he’d lean forward, lowering his voice and looking Korin straight in the eyes. They’d killed two bottles of the rum. Mostly Korin drinking. And that mostly to have something to do with his hands and his mouth so he wouldn’t say or do anything embarrassing.

The first body any wizard of the Staff learned to diagnose and tend was their own, so getting drunk was never an issue for Korin. Although he had let the alcohol sink in enough to relax him and keep him a little tipsy. To keep him from thinking too much. After they’d parted—Ádan with a smile and a wave and, “I’ll see you around, Sunshine,”—Korin had returned to Marta’s feeling euphoric. Happier than he’d been in weeks. Months. Maybe ever.

His nice evening had even continued after he’d got home. Marta had been at the bar, dealing with the early evening crowd when he’d come in. She hadn’t smiled at him, but when she’d pointed him back towards the kitchen, he found a slice of honey-nut pastry set aside for him. And Lily had blushed and fluttered when Korin gave her the charm and thanked her for her help.

Korin had fallen asleep that night, not to memories of the cursed academy like he’d feared, but to the thought of Ádan’s dancing brown eyes.

Korin recognized this all as the height of foolishness. Fantasies were fine as long as they remained fantasies. Ádan was nobility, and Korin was a wizard, and mere friendship between them was problematic. To think about anything more—Korin should be smarter than that.

Except that Korin had never met anyone like Ádan. Not because Ádan was clever and charming and handsome and brilliant—although he had all those qualities and in greater quantities than Korin had ever encountered—but because he hadn’t kept Korin at a distance. He knew what Korin was, and Ádan had liked him anyway.

This was another offense Korin could lay at the feet of the now-dead knights. As their seats of power had broken, as people had finally stood up to their evil, many of them had gone into hiding or simply gone rogue. They’d become criminals, thugs, bandits. People had become even more frightened, and that fear had blossomed into mistrust for anyone who might look anything like a knight.

Wizards, for example. Using magic, displaying your sigil, it had become a good way to get driven out of towns and villages. Korin couldn’t count the number of times he, Teriad, and Lia had healed someone and then been sent on their way—sometimes apologetically; sometimes with threats of violence. Korin couldn’t count the number of nights they’d been afraid to sleep without someone awake and on watch, cautious that reluctant offers of shelter could turn into a trap.

Because of the knights and their abuses of power.

Even Jonathan had taken a while to be comfortable around Korin, and Jonathan’s own sister had been a wizard.

At best, Korin met people like Marta, who was kind enough, but happy to let him go his own way. At worst…

No, better to think about Ádan. About happier things. About the fact he might be able to make a home in this city. To have friends.

Lily and Verania were in the kitchen, cooking. The spice in the air was sharp enough to make Korin’s eyes water, but it smelled delicious. The food in this city was amazing. Everything had so much flavor! It wasn’t bland mutton or bland fish or bland reindeer. And if he never ate a blood porridge again, that would be more than fine.

It only took a little wheedling to get a waxed paper bowl of curried chicken and rice out of Verania. Korin left the guesthouse, eating as he walked, enjoying the afternoon breeze.

With his stomach full and no more chores to distract him, Korin’s thoughts returned to the old man from yesterday. To those black lines threaded through the old man’s skin.

He’d been jumpy enough about what he’d seen before he’d wandered into the Academy. Now that he knew there was still some power there, some lingering magic, he was doubly concerned. Even the smallest traces of the knights’ magic still lingering in the city could have deadly consequences. Korin couldn’t simply ignore it.

His new clothes were much more comfortable in the sticky heat, although the open collar made Korin incredibly self-conscious. His burnished copper sigil with the raised staff hung right out there for people to see. He caught himself playing with it, covering it with his gloved hand.

But maybe because they were more used to seeing wizards here, when Korin could keep his hand down, he didn’t draw near as many hostile stares as he was used to. Some frowns. Some folks very obviously changing their path to avoid him. Mostly, people seemed too busy with their own lives to bother with him.

The further he walked through the city with no one stopping to harass him, with no angry mobs, with no threats of violence, the more confident he felt. Enough so that before too long, his hands were comfortably at his sides and he was looking around, taking in the beautiful city, rather than staring at the street trying to avoid any eye contact.

Ádan had been a distraction, but now Korin had rediscovered his focus. If the disease was what Korin thought it was—if that sickness was here in Triome—surely someone would have noticed it. Maybe even studied it. If that someone existed, Korin knew where he would find them.

Korin turned towards the tower at the heart of the city, a tower visible from the seaport, from the cliffs, from anyplace one cared to stand. Tall and graceful, reaching for the stars themselves, a tower of rose-colored stone with a dome of burnished gold at the top. The tower that was the center and focal point of the first and greatest of the wizards schools.

The Tower of the Balance. Korin was going to talk to his own kind.


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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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