Korin waited on the road, far enough away from the house he couldn’t be seen, close enough he wouldn’t miss anyone coming or going.
He waited all afternoon and well into the night, but he didn’t abandon his post. And finally, as the half moon rose into the sky, his wait was rewarded. If anyone could say that being right this time was a reward.
Ádan was on the road coming away from Loukanos’s mansion.
Ádan saw Korin and hesitated. After a pause no longer than a breath, he straightened his shoulders and walked up to him. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I think that’s my question.”
Ádan took Korin’s arm and drew him along, walking away from the mansion. “It’s none of your concern what I’m doing.”
Even as he’d waited, Korin had hoped he was wrong, that Ádan’s recent absences had a different explanation. He’d swung back and forth between frightened and furious, betrayed and confused, and now all those feelings whirled together in a tangled mess. “Are you working with him?”
Korin half expected Ádan to lie, but Ádan gave an answer that had to be the honest one. “He’s teaching me magic.” He still sounded exhausted. And now more than a little defeated. “You shouldn’t be here, Korin. It isn’t safe.”
“It isn’t safe for you either. He isn’t safe.”
“My life hasn’t been safe since the day my father handed me over to the Knights. And I have a duty.” Ádan’s hand slid down to tangle his fingers with Korin’s, but Korin pulled away.
“You can’t trust him.” Korin didn’t even want to say Loukanos’s name out loud.
Ádan managed a tired smile. “I know. Believe me, I know the game I’m playing. But it’s all right. This is what I was made for. And maybe this is what Derian intended for me all along.”
Korin stopped, turning to face Ádan. “He’s a terrible man. He’s dangerous. You can’t go back there.”
“I don’t have a choice. I need to learn what he has to teach. There’s no other way to do this.”
Ádan put his fingers over Korin’s lips, silencing him. “No. Don’t even think it. You shouldn’t—I never should have dragged you into into this. I never should have…” His eyes—his whole face—had a hollow, haunted look. He moved his hands down to Korin’s shoulders, gripping tightly even as Korin tried to shake them off. “Listen to me. Please. After everything that’s happened, after…after everything, I can’t stand the thought of anything happening to you. Especially if it happened because of me.”
Korin’s anger drained away, leaving empty fear in its wake. “I don’t want to see anything happen to you either.”
“Korin. Sunshine.” Ádan brushed one hand back through Korin’s hair. “I’ve been a coward. And selfish. And I’ve known—I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it.”
The fear twisted in Korin’s stomach. “Ádan…”
“You have such an amazing future in front of you. You’re brilliant. And kind. And so good inside. And you’ve found your place, I think, and someone who can teach you.”
Korin’s insides lurched. “You knew…about Sheluna?”
Another tired smile. “I keep telling you I’m a spy. You must not think I’m a very good one.”
“I’m sorry. I was going to tell you, but…”
“Shhh.” Ádan continued to stroke Korin’s hair. “It’s all right. That’s the world you belong in. And we both know it.”
Korin caught Ádan’s hand. “What are you saying?”
Ádan leaned down so their foreheads pressed together. “You give me hope,” he whispered. “You remind me there’s a world worth saving. That there are people worth saving. But to do that—to save them—to protect them, I have to walk this path, and I can’t bring you with me. If you got hurt, or corrupted, because of me, I couldn’t take it.
“This burden, I’ve seen it destroy too many good people. I’ve lost friends, and people I respected and people I loved. I can’t let that happen to you, too.”
“Ádan, wait, listen—”
Ádan let go and took a step back. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I dragged you into this. I’m sorry I let you think…” Shadows reached up and swirled around Ádan. And then he was gone.
Korin heard one last whispered, “Good-bye.”
“Ádan!” he yelled. Then again, as loud as he could. “Ádan!”
But there was no answer.