First thing in the morning, Korin went to Renée’s to offer her a delayed apology.

Renée was in her shop, and greeted Korin cheerfully, although she didn’t look up from her microscope to do so. “Come give me a hand.”

Korin dutifully took a seat across the counter from her and used his magic to steady the circuit board on which Renée was manipulating wires too small for Korin to see. It was something Korin had plenty of practice with after seven years at the Crystal. “What are you building?” he asked.

“Nothing yet. I’m still experimenting.” Her hands were cupped around the board, fingers twitching as she used her own magic to manipulate the wires with a finer control than any hand-held tool could give. “Just read Perry’s latest paper on electromagnetic fields, and I’m pretty sure he’s got something wrong, but I can’t dig out his mistake till I’ve got a—steady, Korin! Till I can replicate his process.”

She sat up and Korin felt the air around them both ease as she released her magic. “Only so much of that I can do at a time.” She eyed Korin, looked him up and down. “And how are you today?”

So much had happened since he’d dragged her out of bed in the middle of the night. What could he even say? “I don’t know.”

“Hmm.” Renée leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms. “All right then. Tell me what more you’ve learned about the blight.”

This was safer ground. Korin told her about healing Shaiera, about the reading he’d done. He talked about the way the blight fought him, the ways it had changed and the ways it hadn’t. Renée heard what he was saying, and possibly what he wasn’t, and said, “You think someone made this. You think it’s a weapon.”

“It’s worse than that.” He told her about the academy, about his suspicion there were still knights around. Whether it was time or repetition or just the release of tension that last night with Ádan had been, Korin was able to say the words without his heart racing or the feeling he couldn’t breathe. “And I don’t know what to do,” Korin concluded.

Renée tapped her fingers on the counter. Careful, even as her mind was elsewhere, not to disturb her project. “Normally I’d say go talk to your Archwizard. Except I’ve met your Archwizard. Man’s a menace. No offense. If some rogue wizards—or, Light forbid, more knights—are involved in magical fuckery, I can’t imagine he’d care. Less it was getting in the way of his own magical fuckery.”


“Don’t scold your elders, Korin. Let me think.” Her fingers continued to drum, until she shook her head. “This is way outside my expertise. Maybe if you had tangible evidence—another victim, perhaps—you could take it to the Council of Nine, but frankly, after all that nonsense down in Ulek, the council isn’t eager to stir up any trouble. They’re going to be cautious. It’s been a big, public thing that the knights are gone. If that turns out not to be true, that could come down hard on the orders. And after all that corruption, I don’t know if it would be better or worse if it turns out it’s not more knights. That it’s just wizards abusing their power.”

“But that doesn’t even make any sense. If the council won’t protect people from magic being used badly—it’s…it’s irresponsible!” Korin was offended by the very idea.

“That’s life. Full of lazy asses in power just trying to do the least possible work it takes to get by.”

“We have an obligation.” Korin was quoting Teriad now, and it hurt a little. “We have the power to help people, and it’s our job to use it. To leave the world better than we found it. If there’s something that only I can do, then it’s my responsibility to see it done.” He slowed down at Renée’s bemused expression. “Isn’t that right?”

“Oh kid, there are no easy answers. The world’s complicated, and I wish it were as easy as you say.” She sighed and rolled her shoulders, preparing to settle back in at the microscope. “But you’re not dumb, and I think you know as well as I do that it isn’t.”

Korin didn’t know how to respond to that. So he put his hands back in place to help her with the board. “Ready when you are.”

Renée leaned in and that was the end of talk of the blight for the morning.


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Barbara J Webb


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