Ádan lurked in the hall outside the entrance to the royal archives. A clerk sat at the desk beside the door, keeping guard. Technically, Ádan wasn’t allowed in the archives. In a pinch, if he got caught, he could say Lysander sent him, and the prince would back him up. But it would draw attention. Ádan didn’t want attention. So best if he didn’t get caught.

Fortunately, this was the magic Ádan was best at. This was what he’d been trained in from the start.

It took barely a thought to draw whispers and shadows around himself, making himself dim. Not invisible, but hard to see, hard to focus on. Eyes and minds would slip past him without catching.

Another twitch of power summoned a rustling noise that drew the clerk’s attention as Ádan slid by him. He opened the archive doors quickly, but quietly, and eased them closed again without making a sound.

Inside, he listened. He’d checked around, charming his way through people to make sure no one would be using the archives at this time, but there was no reason to be sloppy. He counted his breaths, eyes closed, and only when he’d reached sixty without even the tiniest scratch of movement around him did he relax.

This wasn’t the first time Ádan had broken into the archives, so he knew his way around, knew exactly what section he needed. Still moving noiselessly, he wound his way through the labyrinthine stacks to the shelves that would hold the history he sought.

This was recent history, as the Kingdom of Ritalle measured things. A little over a hundred years ago. Just before the Knights had been banished from the city. At that time, Lysander’s father had still been alive. Had still been king. And Lysander’s father the king had had a younger brother. The man who would have been Lysander’s uncle, had he lived to see Lysander born.

The brother hadn’t lived. In fact, his death had been what sparked the final explosion between the royal family and the Knights that had led to the Knights being driven from Triome.

Ádan had heard this story from Derian, and then again from Lysander. At the time, it had been clear the death had been somehow tied to the knife. Now, Ádan needed details—specific details. He had a suspicion he needed confirmed.

It didn’t take much digging before Ádan had found the notes from the wizards who had treated the sick prince. Ádan read through them several times, memorizing key details. Loose skin. Lines of rot. Reacts badly to magic.

The notes documented a progressive sense of frustration and helplessness. From the tight, careful script of the first wizard who had looked at the prince—a Wing wizard who taught at the school—to the urgent scrawl of the Archwizard of the Wing himself who had been called in when the prince’s condition had continued to deteriorate.

That had been Sheluna’s grandfather, her predecessor in leadership of the order. Reading his words now, the anger that simmered through as this powerful man had run into something he couldn’t understand—Ádan wondered how many seeds of the war that had erupted almost a hundred years later had been planted here.

It hardly mattered. The past was just that. The important thing was that, as far as Ádan could tell, the prince had died of the blight.

Ádan carefully returned the documents to the shelf, replacing them exactly as they’d been before. Then he slipped out, as quietly as he’d come in.

The blight. Which Ádan had never seen or heard of before a month ago, when he’d first met Korin and Korin had led him to that sick old man.

Ádan still felt bad about how he’d lied to Korin. But he’d been desperate. He was still desperate. And now the world was only getting more complicated instead of less.

Ádan had seen knights afflicted in similar ways to what the blight did. At the end of the war, when loss had started to look inevitable, Derian had been willing to try anything. Including letting the remaining knights open themselves to the influence they were supposed to be guarding against. They’d taken in the knife’s power.

It hadn’t saved them.

Then, here in Triome, Ádan had seen more of that in the blight. At first, he’d been terrified it meant the knife’s power had somehow gotten free. That he’d already failed as a guardian.

That had turned out to be something else. Once again, people who had opened themselves up to the influence of the knife. People who shouldn’t have been able to, mind you. But still, an intentional use of the power.

Now, reading about the dead prince, Ádan had questions again. Questions about the true limitations of the knife. Questions about the protections that might not be as secure as everyone believed. Or, conversely, had the prince known about it? Had he done this to himself? Had someone else done it to him? Who? And why?

So much he didn’t know; so many things he was—let’s be honest—going to need help understanding. It was honestly overwhelming to think about.

But he couldn’t let that show. Walking through the palace, he had to be Ádan zhi Dhari, who didn’t have a care in the world. Ádan forced a smile, put more energy into his walk.

No one who saw him would have any idea that he was wrestling with questions of how to stop a threat to the very world.


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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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