Renée was at her workbench, slotting tiny gears into an unidentifiable device like she was building a puzzle. She looked up, her eyes huge behind the goggles she wore. “Welcome back Korin. And…” She squinted. “I know you. At the school, about ten years ago. One of those hellions that ran around with the prince. Family…family…zhi Dhari, right?”
Ádan nodded. “But please, ma’am, just Ádan.”
“Yes.” Reneé drew out the syllable thoughtfully. “You and Prince Lysander. Troublemakers, the lot of you. Although as I recall, when those other lackwits weren’t looking, you were a sharper student than you wanted to let on. Could have made a wizard out of you, if you’d had the gift.”
“No thank you.” Ádan smiled and winked at Korin. “I’m happy to leave wizarding to others.”
Renée rolled her eyes, a gesture made comic by magnification. “And what brings the two of you in here?”
“Library pass?” Korin reminded. “You said—“
“Oh! Yes. I have it. Somewhere.” Renée pulled off her goggles and started rummaging through drawers and cabinets full of clutter.
Ádan pulled up a stool and settled in next to the workbench. He looked perfectly relaxed, comfortable in the presence of two wizards. But then, Korin had yet to see Ádan ill-at-ease anywhere. “I thought any wizard had free access to the library,” he said, watching Renée dig around.
“Of course they do,” Renée answered without looking up. “But the school still likes to know who’s coming and going. The Archwizard pays attention to who’s making use of the resources.”
That thought spurred a flutter of an idea. “So they would know if there are any other wizards of the Staff in Triome?”
Renée sat up, gave Korin a sympathetic look. “Sorry, kiddo, but I can tell you the answer to that one.”
So much for that brief flash of hope. Another Staff wizard would be able to help Korin figure out the blight. Would be able to help Korin figure out a lot of things. “The city’s huge. Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Believe me. The Archwizard keeps a close eye on the city. No offense, Korin. You seem like a good kid. But your order’s got a poor reputation.”
“Why? What could anyone have against us? We’re healers.”
Renée raised an eyebrow.
Ádan added. “It has to be an utterly unreasonable prejudice. Just look at Korin.”
“Thank you,” Korin said. The words were inadequate to communicate the heated gratitude he felt at Ádan’s defense, but they would have to do.
Ádan continued after flashing a grin that sent warm shivers all through Korin, “The point still stands: no other Staff wizards in the city means no help with the blight. Unless you think one of the Wing wizards might be able to come up with something.”
Korin and Renée snorted in unified derision. “Wing wizards, useless lot. All of them,” Renée said. “But what blight are you talking about?”
Korin explained about Dustin, from his first glance of the man in the market square to his struggle to heal the aggressive, invasive, blackness. Ádan added in details. Renée listened, nodding along. When Korin was done, she asked, “So you think this has to do with the Wizard Knights?”
“Yes,” Korin said.
At the same time as Ádan answered, “It’s too soon to tell.”
They looked at each other and Ádan shrugged. “Korin’s the expert,” he amended.
“I don’t know,” Renée said. “This is way outside my area. I can see why you’d want to consult with someone in your own order.”
Korin hadn’t really expected Renée to know what to do. But it was disappointing to hear anyway. “What about other wizards who were in Ulek? There were plenty of us around. Surely some of them were from Triome.”
“Well sure,” Ádan answered quickly. Earning him a wry look from Renée. “Of course Wizard Renée would know better than I,” he continued, managing to almost sound contrite.
“Most that went fighting are still down there. The few who’ve come back—couple Flame wizards, couple Sword wizards. Even if they noticed this sickness of yours, they’re not going to have figured out anything to do with it. Except kill the poor bastards who have it.”
Which meant Korin was truly on his own.
“Aha!” Triumphant, Renée pulled a folded piece of heavy paper from a mixed stack of envelopes, wires, and other scraps. “Here it is. One library pass.”
“Thank you.” Korin tucked the paper inside his shirt.
“And I’ll be happy to give you a tour myself, but not today. I promised Lord zhi Elias I’d have this music box ready for his wife’s birthday, and I’m horribly behind.”
“I know my way around the school,” Ádan offered. “If you need a guide.”
And that settled that. Renée waved them away, her attention already back on her own project and Korin followed Ádan out of the shop.