Korin held his peace until they were back out onto the road. His entire body was a tense ball of fury. His throat was so tight, he could barely speak. He couldn’t manage it at all until they were well away from the mansion.
Ádan, too, was quiet. Which was oddly infuriating. “Did you know?” Korin finally demanded.
“Know what?” Ádan asked. He sounded evasive. Or maybe Korin was imagining that because he expected it. Not that Ádan didn’t have a history of keeping secrets.
“I didn’t know he was here in Triome,” Ádan said. Which wasn’t exactly an answer to the question Korin had asked.
“Did you know he was a monster?”
Ádan sighed. But he answered straight on. “Yes. I knew. Everyone knows. Reneé told you as much, but you didn’t want to listen.”
“So this is my fault?”
“No!” Ádan stopped, grabbing Korin’s hand and forcing Korin to stop too, to face him. “None of this is your fault. Don’t think for a minute anything that man does reflects on you.”
“He’s hurting people because of me. He’s going after people I’ve helped just to get my attention. And you heard him. He isn’t going to stop. More people are going to get hurt because of me.”
“Because of him,” Ádan insisted in a cold voice. “He’s spent his whole life hurting people. You’re not responsible for his actions.”
“But I am responsible for those people.”
Ádan squeezed Korin’s hands so tight it was almost painful. “Promise me you’re not thinking of doing what he wants—of going back to—“
“No.” Korin pulled free. He knew Ádan was trying to help, but Korin didn’t want comfort right now. He didn’t want empty reassurance. “I would never work with someone like that. I don’t want to learn anything he would want to teach me.”
So much to learn, the knife’s voice whispered.
“No,” Korin repeated. To her. To Ádan. To the universe. “No, that’s not who I want to be. That can’t be…” He turned away, burning with anger and guilt and helplessness.
Ádan put a hand on his shoulder. “What can I do?”
“Nothing.” What could either of them do? Who had the power to fight an Archwizard?
Clarity washed over Korin with the sudden understanding of what he needed to do.
Ádan squeezed his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I really am. If you think of anything you need—anything I can do—you know where to find me.”
They’d been planning to spend the evening together, so Ádan’s exit was rather abrupt. Still, Korin let him go. For what Korin planned, Ádan wouldn’t be able to help. And it would be better if Ádan didn’t even know. Korin waited till Ádan was out of sight before he started walking again.
Back to the palace. Back to the garden, and Sheluna.
“You said you wanted allies,” Korin said without preamble.
Sheluna nodded, her red eyes glowing slightly as she considered him.
“Allies against who?”
Sheluna waved her fingers and the sounds of the garden disappeared. She and Korin were alone together in bubble of privacy. It was an impressive display of magic, all the more so for the effortless way she’d done it. “Is there someone you have in mind?” Sheluna asked.
No point in being coy. “Loukanos. My Archwizard.” He paused, remembering their last conversation. Her mention of other Staff wizards. “Did you know he was here?”
“I had my suspicions, but he has yet to reveal himself to me. We are not on what you would call friendly terms.”
“Well he’s here. And he’s abusing his power.”
Sheluna nodded. “I know how he operates. But there’s nothing I can do. Archwizards are forbidden to act against each other without full backing of the council. And the council is…uninterested in more conflict now the war in Ulek is ended.”
“However,” Sheluna continued, her eyes glowing brighter, “If a member of his order were to challenge Loukanos…”
“He’s an Archwizard.”
“And you are a young man with both talent and passion.” Sheluna leaned forward. “Do you know that Teriad once challenged Loukanos? They fought. Teriad lost, of course. But Teriad, for all his convictions, was never the most powerful wizard. He didn’t have a chance against Loukanos. Which is probably why Loukanos let him live.”
Korin was shocked. He couldn’t imagine Teriad fighting anyone. Much less Teriad challenging an Archwizard. Teriad, who’d kept them isolated and as far away from politics as possible—that Teriad had once tried to take over the order?
“Here’s what I think,” Sheluna continued. “Teriad still believed someone different should be leading the Staff. Teriad still wanted to see the end of Loukanos—of all the horrible things that he’s led the Staff to do. And then Teriad found you.
“I’ve done my homework, Korin. You healed people in Ulek. You’ve healed people here. You have power like Teriad never dreamed of. I believe Teriad saw that as clearly as I did. I believe Teriad had plans for you. He couldn’t challenge Loukanos…but perhaps you can.”
Korin knew he was gifted. Korin knew he was good at the magic he did. But what Sheluna was suggesting… “I’m not that good.”
“Not yet,” Sheluna agreed. “But you could be. With the right teacher.”
Korin understood what she was offering. And he understood what she was asking for in return.
Korin wanted no part in wizard politics. Even in the best world, he wasn’t interested in the games, in the attention, in any work other than the hands-on helping that he knew best. And this wasn’t the best world. Korin’s relationship with Ádan complicated things. The knife complicated things. How much actual scrutiny could Korin afford without betraying his friends? Without someone looking a little too close at Ádan?
But someone had to stop Loukanos. And it didn’t seem as though anyone else was going to step forward to volunteer.
There was, in the end, only one answer Korin could give.