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Korin slowly stroked his hand along Cír’s flank, feeling deep into the Tiger’s body, memorizing every fold of muscle, every pulse of his breath, every tiny capillary. Cír pressed into Korin’s palm, rumbling his approval.

“You see how he fits together?” Sheluna asked. She was watching from her chair on the other side of the workroom, close enough she could step in if Korin somehow upset Cír, but far enough to give Korin space to work.

“He’s beautiful.”

“You see what I mean? More like us than not.”

Korin was certainly having no trouble identifying how everything fit together, how all the systems inside the Tiger matched up with systems inside humans and Firstborn. “I can see how I’d heal him, if he were hurt. You’re right, it’s not much different. Once you know the patterns to look for.” He opened his eyes, grinning, and gave Cír a deep scratch behind his ears to thank him for his patience.

Sheluna watched the exchange, her eyes glowing like banked embers, thoughtful. “Have you considered that we might find you a familiar? You’d learn the binding magic easy enough. Most of it you already know.”

“I’m not a Wing wizard,” Korin answered automatically.

“I’m not asking you to be. I only meant…” She sighed and held out her hand. Cír rolled to his feet and padded over to press his forehead into her palm. As always, Korin marveled that something so big could move so quietly.

Sheluna leaned down and pressed her cheek against the top of Cír’s head and asked. “Do you know why the orders exist, Korin?”

Every wizard knew why the orders existed. To train, to police, to guide. But Sheluna never asked a question where the answer she wanted was obvious. “Is there something more than I think?”

“Always,” she answered with a little smile. “To every question, there’s always a deeper answer.”

“So tell me.”

She lifted her head and Cír settled at her feet. “Once upon a time, long long ago,” Sheluna’s eyes burned brighter with amusement, “my noble ancestor Kormanth zhi Darkivel was born.”

Korin knew that name. Every wizard knew it. “He created the orders.”

She nodded. “He was a genius. I’ve read his journals, and I can tell you that he had an understanding of magic far beyond anything you or I will ever accomplish. Have you ever seen Castle Darkivel?”

“I’ve never been there.”

“Someday I’ll take you. You should see it. It’s beautiful.”

“I’ve seen paintings. And heard stories. They say it’s the greatest castle in the south.”

“Kormanth built it in a day. He literally raised it from the ground, and sculpted it with nothing more than his power and his imagination.”

That…Korin couldn’t even imagine how that might be possible. “That sounds like a family story that’s grown in the telling.”

“And yet, we have the records of multiple witnesses to the event. It happened. And I’m telling you this so you understand when I say that Kormanth had power and skill like no one who has ever lived, I’m not exaggerating.”

“Okay.” Korin still wasn’t sure where this was going.

“And yet, Kormanth was a teacher. Reading his accounts—he took more joy in the tiniest accomplishments of his students than he did in any grand display of his own. He believed that anyone with the slightest talent, the barest temperament for magic should have the opportunity to learn. And he understood, in a way few people of natural brilliance and talent ever do, the true challenges of learning.

“Kormanth created the orders—only five to start with, but they expanded to nine, and then, of course, the Knights fractured off to form their own order, but now we’re back to nine, and I expect we’ll stay here for a while. He created the orders to create a natural subdivision of magic, a limited skillset that any individual wizard has to learn. And for most wizards, that’s a blessing. Think about it, Korin. Think about the people you went to school with. How many of them struggled with even the most basic lessons?”

Sheluna ran her own school, so of course she knew the answer. “Most of them.”

“Exactly. For most, it’s a ten year course of study to earn their sigil—to reach the point where they get to apprentice and start learning the real magic of their order. And for most, apprenticeships last for years, and they still never learn more than the most basic bag of tricks. And that’s fine. Because even a little magic, mastered, is still extraordinary.

“But you and I, Korin—wizards like us—the structure fails. You’re so young, and yet you’ve already mastered everything Teriad knew to teach you. You picked up bits and pieces of Crystal knowledge just from being in that school for seven years. You’ve taken in everything I’ve given you, and come up with a couple ideas along the way I never would have thought up on my own.”

The idea was tempting—and flattering—the concept that he was too good for limitations, for the rules. But that seemed like a dangerously seductive line of thinking. “Why wouldn’t he just say that? Why not build this into the system if his plan was for smart wizards to be free to learn anything?”

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could ask him.” Sheluna spread her hands, gave a frustrated shrug. “But I think it just never occurred to him people would limit themselves. He saw the orders as a starting tool, not a line that, once drawn, no one should cross.”

She gave him a soft smile. “I understand this goes against so much that you’ve been taught. But…you’ve got so much potential. So many years ahead of you. I hate to see you limit yourself.”

“Why?” A part of Korin hated himself, but it was a question that needed to be asked. “I’m sorry, because you’ve been nothing but kind to me, but I have to wonder—”

“What I’m getting out of it?”

Korin blushed at Sheluna’s blunt phrasing, but that was exactly it. He nodded.

But she didn’t seem upset. Only tired. She sighed. “Give yourself a few more years, and you wouldn’t ask that question. Live a life surrounded by wizards who can’t look beyond their own limitations…or who won’t. What you bring me, Korin, is a challenge. A new perspective. You’re someone I can talk to, share ideas with.”

“Surely the other Archwizards—”

Sheluna cut off that thought with one raised eyebrow. “Like Loukanos, you mean?”

“Well, not him, but…”

“But who?” Sheluna shook her head in slow negation. “I won’t bore you with a list of their failings, but suffice to say, the rest of my colleagues are uninterested in sharing secrets or becoming friends.”

It occurred to Korin that maybe that should be a sign. If everyone else in the world disagreed with Sheluna…

But maybe sometimes everyone else in the world was wrong. Wasn’t that the lesson he’d learned from Ádan?

“I need some time to think about this.”

“Naturally.” The glow in her eyes softened and faded as she leaned back in her chair. “Although it seems like you’ve been thinking a lot of things through, lately. I don’t feel like I’ve had your full attention for weeks.”

“You haven’t,” Korin admitted. “But it’s…personal.”

“Ah.” One word that spoke volumes. “Well then. Go think. Go be young. Just remember, lovers come and go, but magic is yours, always.”

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