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Korin let the knife lead him through the city. Ádan didn’t question the direction, following silently. Once again, Korin worried about Ádan’s silence, but he wasn’t exactly in a position to press Ádan to open up.

They went south. Through the market. Over the river. Up the steep roads to the bluffs. Through neighborhoods of mansions where liveried guards eyed Korin with suspicion, even with Ádan in his noble dress at Korin’s side.

At the knife’s guidance, Korin turned down a road that led between two estates and then farther, out past what seemed like it might be the edge of the city. Surrounded by overgrowth, he kept going, feeling through the knife the pulse of power that now lay close ahead.

Looking over, Korin noticed Ádan’s hand on his sword as Ádan watched all around. Ádan on alert was reassuring.

“Are we still in the city?” Korin asked.

“No idea,” Ádan answered softly. “I’ve never been down this road. I didn’t even know it existed.”

“You mean you’ve never been over in this part of cliffside?”

“No. I mean we went right by the zhi Yuesult estate. I’ve been to parties there. Lysander and I, we explored every inch of their gardens. I’m telling you, there wasn’t a road.”

Korin looked down at the worn stones, the divots and discolorations where weather had worn away the original work and it had been repaired. This road was old. Order than Ádan, at least. “Could you have just missed it?”

“No.”

Which meant someone had been hiding it. With magic. “How easy is it to do something like that? This isn’t my area of expertise.”

“You’re talking big ritual magic. Which isn’t my thing either.”

They reached an estate—or what was left of one. The grounds had once been overgrown, but now everything was brown and brittle and dead. The outbuildings were rotting, their once beautiful domes now dotted with a handful of painted tiles that still clung to their place while the structure crumbled around them.

The road had curved back around to the cliffs. This manor had an incredible view and would have been an amazing place to live once. Now…

“Does someone really live here?” Korin asked.

“You’re the one who led us here, Sunshine.” Ádan drew his sword. “Let’s see what we’ve found.”

The great house looked only somewhat more solid than the rest of the estate. Still, Korin tested his foot on the steps, ready to jump back if anything crumbled. In silent accord, he and Ádan spread out, putting several feet of space between them so no part of the rotting floors had to bear both of their weight. Korin pushed open the front door.

Inside was nothing like Korin had expected. It was like he’d pushed his way into the past, when this manor had been something beautiful. Inside was lush and opulent and not a sign of decay.

And inside, at the base of the grand stairway, a man waited for them.

Neither old nor young, neither handsome nor ugly—this man was the epitome of nondescript. If Korin had passed him on the street, his eyes would have slid on by. There was nothing about this man to catch the attention.

Except for the sigil around his neck—a sigil that matched Korin’s.

“How delightful,” the man said, his voice as neutral and uninteresting as his appearance. “Guests. And me without so much as a pot of tea brewing.”

“Forgive us for intruding,” Korin said, his reflex for politeness covering his confusion.

“Not at all. I’ve been waiting for you to find me, Korin. It is Korin, yes?”

Korin nodded, unsurprised this stranger knew his name.

The man’s eyes shifted to Ádan. “And who is this?”

“A friend,” Korin answered. There was no reason for this wizard to know Ádan’s name.

“How sweet.” The man looked Ádan up and down, took in the sword that was still gripped tightly in Ádan’s hand, and quite visibly dismissed Ádan, turning his attention back to Korin. “I’m so pleased you found me.”

“You’re the one—you’ve been hurting people. You’ve been…” Korin didn’t even have a word for it, “unhealing them.”

“It’s true.”

Korin was sickened by the fact the man didn’t even try to deny it. “Why? How can you do something like that?”

“A test for you. Once which you’ve now passed. Well done.”

“You hurt those people. Innocent people!”

The man flicked his hand, dismissing the complaint. “Meaningless rabble. Millions of them in the world, Korin, and none of them matter. Not like you and I. We have a gift that makes us more important than any hundred of them put together. If you must use them to learn, that’s one thing. But never mistake them for beings of any importance.”

“Who are you?” Korin demanded.

It was Ádan who answered. “He's Archwizard Loukanos. Korin, meet the head of your order.”

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Barbara J Webb

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