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It was the middle of the night, so of course Renée’s shop was closed, but Korin pounded on the door until a light came on in the little second floor apartment. A moment later, Renée leaned out the window. “Light bless, Korin. Do you know what time it is?”

“Please, I need to talk to you.”

“Of all the…” she pulled her head back inside, still muttering, but the locked door clicked open beneath Korin’s hand.

Renée’s apartment was every bit as cluttered as the shop below, full of books and loose sketches and half-finished clockworks and stranger machinery. Renée was in her tiny kitchen, grumbling as she set a pot of water on the stove. “No talking till I’ve had some caffeine.”

Korin paced while Renée saw to her drink. She watched him, her face gradually softening. Finally, with the scent of fresh coffee hanging in the air, Renée settled in the one available chair and said, “All right. You want to talk, so let’s hear it.”

“I need to know about my order.”

Renée sipped her coffee, her eyes on Korin, studying him. “So you just woke up in the middle of the night and decided you needed a history lesson?”

“I’m not joking.”

“Neither am I. And as the aggrieved party here, I think I deserve a little more of an explanation.”

Korin had to remind himself that Renée hadn’t caused any of the frustrations or fears that had wound him into this state. And that yes, she absolutely deserved some consideration for taking him in at this hour and agreeing to talk. “Earlier today, when I was in here, I said Wizards of the Staff were all healers, and you gave me this look, like you didn’t agree. And then just now…”

It took very little time to give Renée the details of his night, his encounter with Nikki. He told her everything. Nearly everything. When he talked about the cursed academy, he left out the voices that twice now had spoken to him. Korin finished with, “Is what he said true? About my order?”

Renée sighed, leaning her head back against the chair. “Your Teriad, I can’t decide if he was a saint or an idiot.”

“Renée—“

“Hush, Korin. You came here to ask me questions, now let me talk.”

Except she didn’t. Renée sat in silence, staring at the wall above Korin’s head, lost in her own thoughts. Korin had stopped pacing, but as the silence stretched on, his nervous energy grew until standing still was almost unbearable.

When she spoke, it wasn’t anything Korin expected. “Why did you join the Staff?”

The answer was easy. “Because of Teriad.”

“But why? Are you telling me that if a Star or Flame wizard of sufficient charisma had been around you would have joined them?”

“No. No, I never…” It was hard to think about. All his memories of Teriad now had jagged edges, ready to cut. “Teriad visited the school a few times while I was a student. There was one particularly bad winter where he got snowed in for about a month. I was still learning fundamentals at that point, but he’d sometimes hang out in the commons in the evenings and talk to the more advanced students about our magic. Staff magic. And he talked about helping people.

“I liked listening to him, because he seemed to care, to think about what magic could be used for. That he wanted to use it to help people. He talked about responsibility and care and it all made sense to me. It was exciting and interesting, and when I asked Teriad if I could apprentice with him once I graduated, he said yes.”

Renée nodded. “So you didn’t actually know anything about the Staff before you committed yourself.”

“Archwizard Perrault—well, you know how he is. He didn’t believe in ‘gossip.’ We learned about the nine orders, of course, but mostly we focused on the sort of magic they did.”

“Not what they chose to do with it,” Renée finished. She set her cup down, then steepled her fingers, resting her chin on them. “Korin, you have to understand, there are bad eggs in every order. The Council of Nine is supposed to police that sort of thing, but…but we live in the real world. The Archwizards have their own agendas. And most of the rest of us, we’re just trying to get through the day.

“And look, a lot of orders have their reputations. A lot of people are nervous when Flame wizards are around. No one trusts wizards of the Eye. But, yes, there are reasons for that. And reasons why your order makes people uncomfortable.”

“We’re healers,” Korin insisted.

You’re a healer. And it sounds like Teriad was too. But you tell me—is that all your magic can do?”

The room was suddenly too hot and Korin couldn’t look Renée in the eyes.

She didn’t wait for his response. “You’re a smart kid, Korin. I knew that the first day you came in here. And it sounds like you’re good at what you do. Doesn’t take much thinking to figure out that what you do to heal people can be flipped around to hurt them. And that’s the easy—the obvious. Really dig into the magic and there’s some seriously creepy shit your order can pull off that none of the rest of us can even start to figure how it’s done.”

“Stop,” Korin said weakly.

“You asked. And now I’m telling you. Like I said, people get nervous around Flame wizards because sometimes when you piss them off, things blow up. But that’s nothing but a fire hazard. Staff wizards, your magic digs into the places where nightmares come from. And yeah, there are plenty in your order—too many—who are eager to find that place.”

I can’t forgive this. I can’t teach you anymore.

“I’m sorry,” Renée said in a kinder tone. “I can tell this isn’t what you wanted to hear. But truth is all you get in the middle of the night.”

“No, thank you. And I’m sorry.”

“Go home, Korin. Get some sleep. If you want to talk more tomorrow…today…I’ll be here.”

Korin let her shoo him out.

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