Renée was teaching this morning, which meant Korin had to brave the crowds at the School of the Balance to find her. A sprawling campus in the heart of the city, the school occupied more land than the entire village in which Korin had been born. Dormitories, classroom buildings, parks, arenas—the campus was a tiny city all on its own—and at the center, at he heart of everything, the tower.
Korin had been making use of the library almost since he arrived, and by now the the gate guards knew him and waved him through. When he asked after Renée, the guard pointed across the lush green lawn so different than anything Korin had ever known and to the tower itself.
Impossibly tall, constructed of a soft pink marble that turned translucent in the morning sun, the tower of the Balance was a wonder. Like so many buildings in the city, it was topped with a golden dome, this one polished so bright Korin had to shield his eyes to look at it. It was the tallest building in the city, despite the fact that the tower’s base was in the valley and the palace had been built on the cliffs that stood high over the river.
There was another set of guards at the tower doors. At the Crystal—Korin’s school—there had been zero guards. But that school had been isolated and inaccessible, on the most frozen tip of the most frozen country in the world. No one came to the Crystal unless they had business there.
The Balance was a wizard school, like all the rest, but non-wizards came here too. Most of the nobility sent their children to be educated here. Craftspeople gave demonstrations. For anyone in the nation of Ritalle who wanted something beyond a basic education, this was the place to be. Which meant keeping a close eye on who came and who went.
Korin was a wizard. No one questioned his right to be here. Even if his Staff sigil earned him some dark looks. Korin climbed the great winding staircase as fast as he could until he found the classroom where Renée was teaching. He slipped in and took a seat in the back, behind the sea of children Renée was lecturing.
There might have been more students in this one class than had been in the entire school of the Crystal. Renée lectured about magnetism, moving between equations on the chalkboard and an array of magnets on the table at the front of the room where she illuminated and manipulated the magnetic fields with a wave of her hand. It was enough of a show she had the room’s full attention. It helped that she seemed to be having an incredibly good time.
This was magic: making ten-to-twelve-year-olds laugh as the laws of physics danced before their eyes. And Korin laughed along with them as Renée waggled her eyebrows and faked surprise and generally held the room spellbound.
When Renée released the class, Korin stayed in his seat as the hoard of laughing children trampled past. Once he could see the front of the room again, Renée was smiling at him. “I thought I saw you sneak in.”
“I was in the neighborhood.”
“Uh huh.” She tilted her head, smile falling away. “What’s got you looking so serious?”
Was it so obvious? “I have a magic question for you.”
“Oh this should be good.” She started gathering up magnets, warping the fields around them so they’d all fit in the same box with the same casual ease as Korin had when he healed bodies. “Lay it on me.”
She was treating this lightly, but that was Renée. “Can magic just undo itself? Stop working and revert to the way it was?”
Renée dropped the last magnet into the box and set it on the table, then hopped herself up to sit next to it, her feet swinging casually beneath. “You mean like an enchantment?”
“No, I mean like if I heal someone and they come back and what I did just…went away. Like I never worked the magic in the first place.”
“That isn’t possible,” she said with confidence.
“That’s what I thought. Except this morning someone came in and that’s exactly what happened.”
She tapped at her chin, thoughtful. “Do you mean you saw it happen? You saw the magic flip? Or they came back and they were back the way they had been?”
Korin didn’t understand why it mattered. “The second one. But isn’t that basically the same thing?”
“The difference, my dear boy, is all the difference. If you didn’t actually see it happen, there’s an explanation that pops quite readily to my mind, being the suspicious old woman that I am.”
She paused, obviously giving Korin a chance to think it through, but he shook his head. “I don’t see it.”
“Of course you don’t, because it’s horrific. And you’re a good person. But I can’t see any other explanation. Korin, some other wizard is going around undoing your work.”
Korin opened his mouth to protest, but his mind spun through the arguments before he could get the words out. It wasn’t possible. Except, of course it was. The exact same process he used to heal—someone could step back the change, take the body back the same way Korin did. But they couldn’t, because that would be monstrous. Except…Korin knew perfectly well that there were monsters.
So instead of saying no, Korin asked, “Who would do that?”
“Someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing?”
“I’m healing people. Who could have a problem with that?”
Reneé shook her head and said nothing.