The first thing Korin did upon arrival at the sick household was check mother, daughter, and grandchild for any signs of the disease. Consumption was a brute of a disease that spread through households like lightning once someone was at the coughing stage.
Last time, Korin had done this same thing and found nearly all of them infected. He’d cleaned the invasive illness from their blood before sending them away to work on the father.
This time, they were clean.
“Don’t get too close,” Korin cautioned Ádan as they moved into the room where the father had been loosely quarantined. “You can breathe this from the air.” Korin wasn’t too worried. Most wizard-trained were more resistant to getting sick than non-magic types, and Korin could heal Ádan as easily as he could anyone—easier, really—but better if he didn’t need to.
The firstborn man was visibly sick again. His lips were flaked with dried blood. His face was bright with fever even as he shivered under three different blankets. He was coughing weakly. The eyes he turned to Korin were glassy. “It’s all right,” Korin reassured him. “I’m going to make you better again.” But in the man’s fevered state, he didn’t seem to hear.
From the doorway, Ádan asked, “Could he have been infected again by someone else?”
“It’s possible for that to happen.” Korin sat down carefully on the edge of the bed. “But he wouldn’t have progressed this far this fast.” Korin wiped the blood from the man’s mouth with gentle fingers. “This disease—it attacks the lungs. Destroys them. But that takes time. I rebuilt his insides.” It had been a real challenge, but Korin had done it. “He couldn’t be sick again like this—not this fast. Not without someone doing this on purpose.”
Ádan nodded, his expression thoughtful.
Korin lay a hand on the man’s chest, reached in with magic awareness. Found a body ravaged in exactly the same way as it had been before.
What he didn’t find was any sign of the disease.
Korin pulled back out. Looked at Ádan. “He isn’t sick.”
Ádan raised an eyebrow. “I hate to argue with the expert, but…he looks pretty sick to me.”
“He’s…hurt. Someone forced his body back to the way it was when he was sick. But there’s no disease in him. None of the infection.”
“I don’t understand,” Ádan said. “How can he be sick without being sick?”
Teriad would have understood. Any Staff wizard would have. But Korin didn’t have time right now to give a full lesson in epidemiology. “We get sick because things inside us make us sick. Tiny invaders. It’s complicated. He had those before—the bacteria causing the disease. Now he doesn’t. There’s no reason he should be like this.”
Except that his body had been like this before Korin put him back together. In the same way it was the easiest magic in the world for Korin to heal a recently broken bone—because the body still clearly remembered what it was like to be whole—could someone push a recently healed body back into sickness because the body still remembered being sick?
The answer was yes. The real question—still—was why?
I can help, came the soft, whispering voice in Korin’s mind.
Korin kept very still, tried to keep his face from showing anything. He carefully formed the words in his head. What do you mean?
The knife answered. The magic used here is my magic. I can find the one who used it. Let me in.
I don’t want to hurt this man. I want to heal him.
He is already hurt. I need to touch him. To feel through him.
Korin risked a glance at Ádan, but Ádan’s attention was focused on the sick man. He didn’t seem to have noticed anything different with Korin. Probably wouldn’t notice if Korin let the knife do as she wanted.
If Korin could trust her. Why would you help me?
Why wouldn’t I?
That’s not good enough.
I want to help. Softer. I don’t want to be alone. No one should have to be alone. Not you, not me, not the one who is doing this. He, too, reaches for me.
Korin shuddered as a wave of cold washed through him. The knife called Korin her child, but she’d talked about others as well. Including…The cultists. The ones who tried to kill me. Are there more? Are they the ones doing this?
The ones who tried to kill you are dead.
Korin wasn’t sure she understood his question. But what did it matter? If the cultists were back, Korin needed to know. If they weren’t, whoever was doing this, Korin still needed to know. Yes, he thought, offering permission.
The knife’s power moved through Korin like a fever, burning and chills all at once. The man beneath Korin’s hands moaned and thrashed with sudden pain. Korin’s senses were still buried inside the man, so he could see the decay sink in, spread through the man, breaking down what was already broken.
Stop! Korin tried to fight back, to heal the new hurt as it expanded, but with the knife’s dark magic inside him, he couldn’t touch his own power. He couldn’t do anything but destroy.
It was like the blight all over again, thick tendrils of black energy moving through the man, alive and searching and hungry. Except this time Korin wasn’t fighting it. He was causing it.
Let him go! Stop it!
You make it harder when you fight.
Korin tried to pull back, but he was locked in place by the power flowing through him. All he could do was watch as the man was eaten alive from the inside out by the power Korin had allowed in.
There. A final surge of power, and with it came understanding. Korin felt the connection, strands of a web reaching out from the tree, through him, and further into the city. The dark, cold, pulse of the knife’s power—Korin could feel it. Korin would be able to find it.
And with that, the knife pulled back. Her sudden absence left Korin hollow, until his power rushed back in to fill the space she had left.
Korin flooded that power into the sick man, fighting to save him. All the old injuries were easy to heal. Where the man had been broken, then healed, then broken again. But the power of the knife had done its own damage. It had burned away the man’s lungs, corrupted his blood, weakened his body. And this damage, Korin couldn’t fix.
Korin did what he could. The man wasn’t going to die. But there would be pain—aches and coughing and weakness—probably for the rest of this man’s life.
Korin’s fault. He’d invited the power in. He’d called on the knife, said yes to her invasion. All so he could find the answers he was looking for.
Korin opened his eyes. Ádan was watching him, studying Korin’s face. He raised his eyebrows in an unspoken question. Korin shook his head a little. He didn’t want to talk here, not in front of the man who had come to him for help.
The man who had trusted Korin. The man who had put himself in Korin’s hands, in good faith, believing Korin wouldn’t abuse that trust.
Korin had used him. Without any thought for the consequences, he had invited in a power he didn’t understand.
No, even that was a lie. Korin knew the knife’s power. He’d seen it in Ulek. He’d seen it in the blight. He’d seen it in the corruption that had spread through the people who had tried to kill him just a couple weeks ago.
Korin had let his guard down. The knife was talking to him in his dreams—even talking to him when he was awake—and Korin had let himself forget the horror it truly was. Because of that lapse, this man had suffered.
The man’s fever was gone, and he’d relaxed into sleep. He coughed softly—no blood this time—and settled back down.
Korin stood. He couldn’t meet Ádan’s eyes. Couldn’t look into the faces of the man’s family as they peered in anxiously from the door. “He’ll be better.”
Korin squirmed his way through the family’s thanks and got out the door with Ádan as quickly as he could.
“What’s wrong?” Ádan asked once they were away.
Too much to ask that Ádan hadn’t noticed Korin’s discomfort. Ádan had been tuned in to Korin since the first day they’d met. “The healing—it didn’t go as well as I wanted it to. But I was able to…” Korin paused, searching for the right words. “I got a sense of the magic that hurt him. I think I can find it—find the person who did it.”
Korin braced for questions he couldn’t—didn’t want to—answer, but Ádan only nodded, taking Korin’s statement on faith. “Let’s go find this asshole.”
Once again, Korin had lied to Ádan. Or at least, withheld the truth. He wasn’t happy about it, but to explain now would only be a distraction from the confrontation ahead of them.
Later. Korin would come clean about everything after they’d dealt with the wizard who had caused all this.