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Working with Sheluna was a revelation.

Teriad had been a skilled wizard and an excellent teacher. Korin learned so much from him. But Teriad had lived by his own agenda, and had spent half his time telling Korin what he couldn’t—or shouldn’t—do.

Sheluna was brilliant. Sheluna was fearless. Sheluna’s eyes lit up at any question Korin thought to ask, excited to share even the most trivial idea she had about magic. She never criticized Korin for anything he didn’t know, and she seemed genuinely impressed by what he did.

Korin wasn’t just impressed by what Sheluna knew. He was dazzled.

The school of the Crystal was so small, Korin had taken a number of classes from Archwizard Perrault directly, so it wasn’t as though Sheluna was the first Archwizard Korin had studied with. And Perrault had been brilliant—no question. When it came to questions of math and physics, of how things worked on a macro or micro scale, there was nothing Perrault didn’t understand. But ask him about magic outside his chosen field, and Perrault would shrug and move on.

Teriad had been the same way. They were wizards of the Staff, he’d say to Korin. There was more than enough magic to perfect within their field. It was foolish to waste time on questions and techniques other wizards were better suited to.

Sheluna didn’t think that way. Sheluna didn’t discourage any train of thought or line of magic.

It didn’t matter that she was of the Wing and Korin was of the Staff. She accepted neither the limitation nor the excuse. If Korin didn’t understand because he lacked a background in what she was talking about, well then she expected him to learn. And fast.

Korin loved the challenge, and even more he loved the implied respect. She expected Korin to be able to keep up, and he couldn’t imagine any greater compliment. For the first time in his life, Korin felt seriously challenged.

Korin’s life settled into a glorious new pattern.

Mornings at the palace with Sheluna. Working, exploring, challenging each other. A great deal of that time they spent in Sheluna’s suite—a cluster of rooms in a palace wing that, as far as Korin could tell, permanently belonged to the Darkivels. A lavish parlor had been converted into a wizard work-area. Furniture had been shoved into corners. Rugs pulled up. The tiled floor was painted with symbols and circles, and every spare surface was piled with books, papers, and the assorted trinkets that seemed to fast accumulate around wizards who didn’t live their lives on the road—small pretty rocks, vials of oils and other fluids, powders of various colors, little dolls and dried flowers.

And because Sheluna was a Wing wizard, the room was filled with animals. Hamsters and mice and birds in cages, out of cages, alive, dissected, stuffed. Two cats who came and went freely through the open windows. A little dog that Sheluna had no claim to, but seemed utterly fascinated by Cír. It was a strange environment to work in, but Korin was getting used to it.

Lunch was at the palace on days when he and Sheluna were still deep in discussion of technique or theory. On days when she had other engagements, or when they’d reached a point where they both needed to go away and think, Korin returned to Marta’s and sat in the kitchen chatting with Holli, Verania, and Lily as they prepared for the evening meal. There was always fresh rice and warm leftovers from the night before, and more often than not on these days, before Korin had finished with the savory food, Marta had come through to slip him a pastry.

Afternoons were more magic. Easy magic. Maintaining the enchantments around Marta’s, providing healing to anyone who came to the guesthouse to ask for him. There’s been a steady stream these last few weeks, but Korin had been happy to see that, so far, none of them were repeat customers. For whatever reason, Loukanos had paused his harassment. Korin didn’t believe that would last, but he could enjoy the quiet while he had it.

Some days it was quiet enough he visited Renée, to join her for dinner or help her with whatever project held her current attention. Other days, the line of people who needed him kept Korin busy until well after dark. At which point he’d drag into the kitchen, wheedle more food from whoever was cooking, and retreat to his room to practice and study the concepts Sheluna was shoving into his head as fast as Korin could learn them.

Tonight, Korin sat cross-legged on his bed, shirtless and still sweating in the humid night air. Not even a slight breeze moved through his open window. Spring was turning into summer, and the heat was suffocating.

Korin had spent the latter part of the morning with Sheluna in one of the palace gardens, talking magic under the baking sun. Korin had been ready to melt, even with his shirt unlaced halfway down his chest and his feet bare in the grass. Sheluna, in her heavy velvet robes, had been as comfortable as ever. When Korin had complained, she’d only looked at him, her red eyes glowing softly with amusement, and said, “Aren’t you a wizard?”

And thus it became a challenge. A matter of pride for Korin to figure out exactly what Sheluna was doing without asking for help. She’d answer any questions he brought to her—she never withheld any knowledge she possessed if Korin asked—but to do so would be an admission that he couldn’t work out the magic on his own.

She wasn’t changing the air around her. The Wing sanctuary in the palace had been cool, but that cool air didn’t follow Sheluna around. Which meant not only did Sheluna have a different trick, but it was one that not all her fawning cadre of followers had mastered.

No, whatever she was doing, it was a change she had made to herself.

Changing his body, could Korin do it?

Healing was a matter of returning the body to its natural state, putting things back the way they wanted to be. That was what Teriad had taught Korin. Healing could be complicated, intricate work, but the magic was always moving through paths the body knew, matching a pattern that already existed.

More complicated, more dangerous, was creating a new pattern. Bodies were complicated, interdependent systems and the slightest error of imagination could kill. Which was why Teriad had insisted no responsible healer ever attempted transformations or alterations beyond a body’s default state.

Sheluna was…more open minded on the subject.

“You’re cheating yourself,” Sheluna had said, just this morning. “If you limit healing only to returning the body to some theoretical neutral state, you’re only going halfway.”

“I’m giving them their own bodies back,” Korin had argued. “You can’t go around changing people into something they aren’t. Especially if they didn’t ask you to. Besides, it’s dangerous.”

“It’s arbitrary,” Sheluna countered. “An injury, fine, that’s an easy line to draw. Leg wasn’t broken before. Now it is. So you fix it. But what about someone who comes to you sick? A pneumonia that damaged their lungs. A cancer that’s eaten away their skin. You don’t just erase the disease. You try to recreate a healthy body for them.”

“That’s still putting things back the way they were supposed to be. It’s just those parts were hurt longer, so you have to reach back further.”

Sheluna had been sprawled back against Cír as they sat in the grass, scratching his head while they talked. “What about old age? Why not call that a disease? Why not put those people back the way they were when they were twenty? It’s just a matter of reaching back.”

“Age is supposed to happen. It’s natural.”

“Ah, natural.” Sheluna’s eyes had pulsed bright, the way they did when she felt strongly about something. “That’s Teriad talking. I know, because I had this same discussion with him. He never listened to me. But you, Korin, you think about things. So consider this.”

She leaned forward, prompting a growl from the tiger as she stopped scratching, which Sheluna ignored. “Magic is something we’re born with. It’s as much a part of us as breathing. So how is it unnatural to use it? Maybe natural is another arbitrary line. It presumes nature is something we need to emulate, which is another discussion entirely.

“Wizards are hypocrites, Korin. Especially our two orders. You say age is natural, but what wizard have you ever known who aged naturally?”

“That’s just because of what we are. It’s the magic—”

Sheluna shook her head, disappointment clear on her face. “You know better. Or you would if you thought about it.”

She wouldn’t say any more. She really meant for him to think about it.

So Korin sat, eyes closed, hands on his knees, focused on his body, and thinking.

Until Ádan’s voice from the window said, “Well now, this is a pretty sight.”

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