Korin stood eye-to-eye with the tiger, unsure what to do next. Until Sheluna said, “That’s right, Cír. Bring him to me.”
The tiger—Cír—Sheluna’s familiar, took Korin’s arm in his mouth. Teeth as long as Korin’s fingers pressed into Korin’s skin. Not quite painful. Absolutely terrifying. Cír tugged, and Korin went along as the tiger pulled Korin towards Sheluna.
Korin pulsed magic to keep his breathing even and his heartbeat calm. It wouldn’t do to show fear. Cír released Korin and circled behind Sheluna, moving with a silence that shouldn’t have been possible for something of its bulk.
Sheluna smiled and lay a graceful hand on her tiger’s flank, but her eyes never left Korin. “So you’re the boy my wizards are making such a fuss about.”
Korin wasn’t sure how to answer that, so he stayed quiet. Around and behind him, the whispers continued, but Korin didn’t dare let his attention stray from Sheluna. All her beauty and relaxed air couldn’t hide the fact that she was as much a predator as the familiar that paced back and forth behind her.
“Staff wizards.” Sheluna sighed. “Always so uptight. At least, the ones of you who are worth anything. You can relax, Korin. I didn’t invite you here to feed you to the tiger.” She stood, her movements as graceful as the giant cat at her side. “I have other plans. Better plans. Walk with me.”
Curious despite himself, Korin followed.
Sheluna led Korin away from the building full of wizards and out into one of the central gardens. Cír paced in a wide circle around them as they walked, and whether it was Sheluna herself or the tiger—or both—no one else approached. Their conversation was private.
“Why did you send those birds after me?” Korin asked as they moved onto a crushed-shells path that cut through a long line of roses.
“I wanted to meet you,” Sheluna said, as though the answer were obvious.
Korin was feeling brave enough to say, “Seems a bit like overkill.”
“It was a summoning spell.” Sheluna shrugged her perfect shoulders. “What did your teachers do if they needed to see you?”
“They sent a note.”
Sheluna’s red eyes glowed—literally—with amusement. “How pedestrian. And which school was that, where you so eschewed the use of magic?”
Korin managed to keep any defensiveness out of his voice. “The crystal.”
“I see. You’re from Torar, then? Grew up in the south? How ever did you manage to end up in Triome?”
Was she making fun of him? She was so dry, Korin honestly couldn’t tell. Why would she care about the details of Korin’s history? What was she really after?
Korin answered honestly, if carefully. “After I earned my sigil, I traveled. My master—Teriad—he took us around healing people. We ended up in Ulek, healing soldiers and wizards who needed it. Until the war ended, and I came here.”
And Ulek, the war, the Wizard-Knights had all followed him here. But that was the last thing he needed to be thinking about with Sheluna walking beside him.
Sheluna paused to lean over a powder-blue rose. “They have such lovely flowers here. I do love Ritalle for that.” She sniffed it, smiled, continued walking. “Teriad. Of course. You would be Teriad’s student.”
“Peace, Korin. I have nothing bad to say about Teriad. Quite the opposite. If he chose you as an apprentice, it speaks well of you.”
The unexpected compliment threw Korin off balance. He didn’t know what to say.
Sheluna continued. “That does explain all the complaints I’ve heard since I’ve arrived—about some foolish young Staff wizard handing out magic for free. Disrupting the market. Stealing business.”
Korin stopped walking. Whatever game Sheluna was playing, he was tired of it. “There isn’t a single person I’ve helped who could have afforded to go to one of your wizards.”
“No, I would imagine not.” Sheluna turned to face him, just as Cír stepped up to her side. She idly stroked his head as she talked. “It is curious, though. You have a gift—a skill. Something you’ve worked and studied for. Your time and talent are worth something, don’t you think?”
“And it’s my choice what I do with them.”
“But why?” Sheluna pressed. “You can’t help everyone who needs it. Surely you know that. Why exhaust yourself and possibly endanger yourself to make life better for a mere handful? In the grand scheme of things, how will those few lives you save even matter?”
That was exactly the sort of argument Korin expected from a wizard of the Wing. “People’s lives matter to them. And who am I to say who does and doesn’t matter?”
“Who indeed?” Sheluna smiled and her eyes puled. “What you may be, my dear, is exactly who I’m looking for.”