Korin did as Ádan asked and followed him back out into the safehouse. Back down the stairs that led to the hot springs, but Ádan kept going past that tunnel and into a deeper, longer passage.
All the time, Ádan was talking. “Nikki and V and I, we got out. As far as I know, we’re the only ones. The knights are dead. I can’t afford to be sentimental about that. And honestly, if all we were—if the only thing left of the knights was what we’d fallen to—outlaws and villains tied together with questionable oaths and less and less reason to adhere to them—I’d be the first to say good riddance.
“But we were greater than that once. We were a force for good in the world.” Ádan walked with his right hand against the wall, like he was feeling for something. “What do you know about us? About our history?”
Korin had to search his mind for anything that wouldn’t be immediately insulting. “That you started out as another order of wizards. Until you decided you didn’t need to follow our laws.”
“I promise you, Korin, we adhere to stricter laws than any wizard.”
Korin let that pass. “Most of what I know is old history. What I learned in school. Ulek was yours from the beginning. The King there had been a knight since the start of your order. For a long time, the Knights were strong here in Triome, too. Until they caught you…” Korin realized he wasn’t sure what had been the original complaint about the knights. He also realized he didn’t care. “I don’t know your history, and I don’t see how it matters. I was there on the front lines. I saw what the knights did. I know who you were now.”
“Context, Sunshine. One man’s just war is another man’s witch hunt. I was there too. I stood next to King Kolyn and Grandmaster Derian. I watched them agonize over every decision. The burden of duty—“
“Duty?” Korin interrupted. “Poisoning the land? Slaughtering innocents?”
“Innocents,” Ádan scoffed. “What innocents? The wizards? The Darkivels? The vultures who practically perched on Archduke Rhanis’s shoulders, waiting to pick apart the remains of Ulek once King Kolyn fell?”
“The innocents,” Korin repeated. “The men and women who had no choice. Who lost their homes and their lives because you couldn’t just…”
“Just what? Just surrender? Just turn ourselves over to be executed?”
“Maybe.” It was a weak answer, and Korin knew it. This was a terrible argument. Not just because it was upsetting to think about, but because Korin realized, maybe for the first time, he didn’t really know the reason for any of it. “You abused your power. Used corrupted magic. Broke laws that have been in effect for centuries—“
“Let me show you,” Ádan interrupted, pressing his hand flat against the wall. “Nothing I say will make sense until you see what the war was really about.”
Under Ádan’s hand, the solid stone wall rippled. Ádan closed his eyes, as focused and intent as Korin had ever seen him. He pressed forward and the stone dimpled, then parted, melting away like snow under a bright spring sun.
As the wall pulled away, Korin felt it. The power crashed against him, turned his stomach. He flinched back even as he was drawn forward, his feet moving of their own accord. The voices, the familiar whispering voices. Sweet boy. Angry boy. Our boy.
Unable to stop himself, Korin walked through the opening in the wall to see what waited on the other side.