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This was the second time Korin had been in the Knight’s safehouse, the underground mansion both hidden and protected by magic. Like last time, he was too distracted to appreciate its grandeur.

Nikki led Korin to a room he hadn’t seen before—a training room, full of dulled weapons and grass-filled mats where a shirtless Varajas was dueling an imaginary foe. By the amount of sweat he’d worked up, he’d been at this a while. Nikki dragged Korin over to the mat and said, “We’ve got a problem.”

Varajas didn’t miss a step, stabbing and twirling away from an anticipated counter-strike. “Korin’s not going to cause us any trouble. I thought we were past that.”

On another day, Korin might have found that funny. “I’m not the problem he’s talking about.”

Varajas lowered his sword, looked around. “Where’s Ádan?”

“That’s the question of the hour,” Nikki said.

“Prince Lysander approached me and asked about him. Said he hadn’t seen Ádan for weeks. And Nikki said you haven’t seen him either. And I’ve only seen him a few hours at a time, maybe one night in three.”

“Could he have gotten himself in trouble?” Nikki asked. “The Blades are back in town. When was the last time you saw him?”

“Just last night. And he’s been…different. Quiet. Tired all the time.”

Varajas grabbed a towel from the edge of the mat and began drying himself off. “He’s been a little off since he got back from Ulek. Whatever he saw down there, I think it really spooked him.”

“And he’s been talking more to that fucking tree,” Nikki grumbled.

“No,” Varajas corrected. “He’s been trying to get the tree to talk to him.”

“It doesn’t?” Korin only just caught himself before he said she.

Varajas shook his head. “You ask me, I think it’s better that way. Grandmaster Derian—he used to talk to that thing and it would talk back and I tell you, you’ve never seen a more haunted man.”

“But if that’s what Ádan’s obsessing about, he’d be here,” Nikki pointed out.

Varajas turned a searching look on Korin. “Has Ádan talked to you about…I don’t even know. Magic? The knife? Trying to figure out how it works, what it is?”

Korin shook his head and hoped he didn’t look too guilty. Ádan hadn’t been talking to him about the knife, but the knife certainly had.

“Last time we talked…” Nikki sighed. “And this really was the last time we talked, now I think about it. We talked about strategies. About maybe finding a wizard to help us, someone who could understand the magic better.” His expression hardened into a glare that he turned on Korin. “Not you, of course. We’re not supposed to sully your delicate little soul with our scary dark magic.”

Korin ignored the taunt, his mind churning. Another wizard…surely that couldn’t mean… “I have to go.”

“Go where?” Nikki asked suspiciously.

“I may know where Ádan is. I hope I’m wrong, but…if I’m right…either way, it wouldn’t be safe for you.”

Varajas accepted the statement. Nikki still looked suspicious, but there wasn’t anything Korin could do about that. He left them both in the safehouse and head out into the city. Hoping against hope that he was wrong.

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Barbara J Webb

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