Passing through the gates of the school of the Balance with Ádan, Korin couldn’t remember why he’d been afraid to come on his own. It was big and crowded, sure, but friendly enough. And Korin was a wizard. He belonged here.

“I think I’m getting used to the city,” he said, which drew a quick smile out of Ádan. It still amazed Korin how easy Ádan smiled.

“I love it here. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” Ádan nudged Korin with his elbow. “I’m glad you’re settling in.”

In the end, the school of the Balance was no different than the Crystal. It had classrooms, just more of them. It had students—many, many more of them. The wizard faculty were more of a mix than Korin had seen in the south. The Crystal school had employed mostly Crystal wizards. Here, while there were plenty of wizards wearing the deep purple sigil of the balance, the halls and grounds had just as many Book, Flame, and Star wizards, with a scattering of Sword and Eye. No other Staff, as Renée had said, and if there were any other Crystal wizards here than Renée, Korin didn’t see them. No Wing either, which was interesting.

Korin wasn’t surprised to find the Balance had a far better library than the Crystal had, which was exciting. Teriad had never been much of a scholar, preferring hands-on experience to magic theory. Now that Teriad was gone, Korin was going to have to be in charge of his own continuing education.

Ádan proved a tireless research assistant, once Korin explained the sort of texts he was looking for—books and pamphlets on disease and anatomy, particularly anything that had been written here in Triome in the last hundred years—Ádan proved himself better at navigating the stacks than Korin.

In all, they spent hours combing the library. First focused and productive. Later laughing together as they stumbled across obscure tomes with strange titles like Varied Philosophies of Caterpillar Organization and Lumber in all its Uses: an Autobiography.

Ádan walked Korin home, each of them carrying an armload of books. Ádan dropped his stack in Korin’s room, then lingered in the doorway. “That should keep you out of trouble for a while.”

A certain spark in Ádan’s eyes that was dangerously familiar. Or maybe it was the way he leaned in when he spoke, like Korin was exerting some sort of gravity. “You think I need keeping out of trouble?” Korin tried to match Ádan’s teasing tone.

“No question of it.” Ádan took a half step forward. Towards Korin. Not quite crossing the distance between them.

The signal seemed unmistakable. Except that this was Ádan—handsome, charming, kind Ádan who was too perfect for words and how could he possibly want Korin? It was too much Korin’s fantasy, impossible to believe. And if he was misreading, if he drove Ádan away…

But Ádan was so close. All it would take would be for Korin to reach his hand up, to lean forward, to finish closing the gap. Korin had wanted this since he’d first looked into Ádan’s eyes.

Except that even if Ádan really was indicating interest, even if the impossible was true and Ádan wanted Korin, did Korin even deserve that? What did it say that he was so eager to make time with Ádan when Jonathan was less than a month buried? How shallow was Korin? How selfish and callow?

Ádan deserved better.

After an endless minute of Korin standing frozen, Ádan quirked a little smile. “Don’t stay up too late reading, Sunshine.” He turned on his heel, graceful enough to make it look like that was what he’d intended all along. Left Korin standing there, confused and alone and hating himself.

Whatever else might be true, there was one thing Korin knew for certain.

He was a coward.


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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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