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Korin bathed. And changed. And ate. Verania and Holli were quiet as they worked around him, cleaning and closing down the kitchen in between running drinks to customers in the still-busy bar. Holli flashed him a quick smile when he looked up and met her eyes, and Verania squeezed his shoulder walking by. Silent comfort.

The food made Korin feel much better. How long since he’d eaten? How much of his hunger had he been ignoring—even suppressing—with unthinking magic?

After he finished, Korin slipped out the back, into the darkening streets. He needed to walk, to stretch. He needed to think.

The city was at its most awake and alive at this hour, when day was turning to night. The streets were loud and crowded, but Korin moved through them with an easy confidence he never would have imagined when he’d first arrived here. The noise, the bustle were, themselves, a shield, and Korin had come around to the realization that no one was paying any more attention to him than he was to them. He, his wizard sigil and wizard self, just blended into the background like everything else.

No breeze tonight, but Korin had the trick, now, of adjusting to the steamy weather and felt as cool and comfortable as if he were back in the south. In just a few short weeks, he’d learned so much from Sheluna. How much more was there to explore? How much more magic was there to find?

Teriad would have warned this path was dangerous. And maybe he had a point. It was Korin’s curiosity that had drawn him over and over again to listen to the knife, to touch its power, and in the end, to break a man who had come to Korin for healing. He’d trusted Korin and Korin had used him—let the knife use him—and now an innocent had paid the price for Korin’s mistake.

Like the people Korin had killed. Who hadn’t been innocent, but they’d been helpless against Korin’s magic. They’d had a right to be angry, to be terrified, and Korin hadn’t needed to kill them except he’d let himself be driven by his own fear and bad judgement.

Bad judgement that Ádan didn’t seem to even believe in. When he talked to Korin, when he talked about Korin, he made it sound like Korin could do no wrong. Flattering as that was, Korin knew better. And that belief—Ádan’s conviction of Korin’s saintly nature had led to Ádan walking away to protect him rather than let Korin decide what risks he was willing to take.

Sheluna’s way. Teriad’s way. Ádan’s way. How much longer was Korin going to let himself be led around by other people? How long was Korin going to stumbled forward before he found his own way?

A way that was moving forward because he wanted to, not because he was afraid of what was behind him. A choice, a belief, a goal. Something he understood, rather than stumbled into or fell back onto out of habit.

It was time, in short, to grow up.

Unfortunately, while that decision was easy, the answer he sought was not. Korin wandered long into the night, lost in his thoughts, and had moved no further towards finding his path by the time he came home, exhausted, and collapsed into this bed for the first good sleep he’d had since Ádan had left him.

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Barbara J Webb

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