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After hours of brainstorming and experiments and theory, Korin was mentally exhausted and no further along than he had been before, but he felt energized all the same. He and Sheluna had done good work and tomorrow they’d do more and he was absolutely confident they’d find a way to approach this problem and solve it.

Sheluna had to stop for a lunch engagement—something political that Korin had no interest in—so Korin contemplated heading down to town to try to catch Renée for food and possibly more talk of magic theory. But as he was crossing through the gardens, he was intercepted.

Korin recognized Prince Lysander from the parade the day Ádan had returned. From a distance, he’d been dazzling. Close up, he was even more impressive. Taller than Korin had realized—tall even for one of the firstborn, with chiseled features and cheekbones that could cut glass.

What surprised Korin was that Lysander recognized him. “Korin, right?”

Korin nodded cautiously.

Lysander seemed to notice he was making Korin nervous. He took a step back, raised his empty hands. “It’s all right. I’m not here to cause you any trouble. I was just…” He lowered his voice, leaned in just a little. “Have you seen Ádan recently?”

“I saw him—” Korin stopped himself before he finished with last night. He didn’t know what Lysander knew about Ádan, about Ádan and Korin, or what might get Ádan into trouble. “I’ve seen him,” Korin corrected.

“Oh good,” Lysander said with visible relief. “I was getting worried. It’s been weeks since he’s been around. But he told me about you, that you were a friend.”

Ádan had talked about him to Lysander. That gave Korin a happy burst of warmth. Enough that it almost distracted him from the rest of what Lysander had said. “Weeks? That long since you’ve seen him?”

Lysander shrugged. “I know he has…duties. Concerns that occupy his time right now. I just wanted to make sure he was all right.”

The idle concern Korin had been feeling about Ádan’s exhaustion, his distractedness, started to grow louder. “I’ll tell him you asked.”

So it wasn’t luck Korin hadn’t run into Ádan here at the palace. Ádan hadn’t been coming to the palace. Which made Korin wonder…what was Ádan doing with his time?

So instead of heading towards Renée’s, Korin pointed himself towards a different part of the city. Towards the other place he knew he was likely to find people who might know where to find Ádan.

The Sandy Fox did a brisk business at lunch. It was packed full, loud and hot, even with its open, breezy walls. Ádan wasn’t here—that had been too much to hope for—but someone else Korin recognized. A redhead in muted colors at a tiny corner table all alone.

Nikki and Korin weren’t exactly friends. Korin was still uncomfortable with the idea of the Knights—these people who had done so much damage to people Korin had personally been trying to save. The Knights who had been responsible for the deaths of people Korin cared about. Even knowing that Ádan was one of them—even understanding, to a degree, what had driven them—Korin still had trouble accepting it.

But today, Nikki was an ally, and that was good enough. Korin sat down across from him. Nikki looked up from his rice bowl and lifted his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“I’m looking for Ádan.”

Nikki rolled his eyes. “You’d know better than I would. At least, I can only assume it’s your pretty little ass that’s kept him away.”

Korin’s unease grew another couple notches. “How long since you last saw him?”

“A few weeks. Why?” Nikki set his spoon down, really focused on Korin for the first time since Korin had joined the table. “Haven’t you seen him?”

“Here and there. Every few nights, but even then, not for long.”

“Lysander—” Nikki began.

Korin cut him off. “Hasn’t seen him at all.”

Nikki considered for a moment. “It isn’t like Ádan to shirk his duties.”

“What duties? You aren’t—”

“Not here.” Nikki stood and grabbed Korin by the sleeve. “Come on. We need to talk.”

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Barbara J Webb

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