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Varajas had made a mistake, and he knew it. This place had him off-kilter. He still didn’t feel completely himself. He’d been dragged along with Samir into the vision, and that had been bad enough. Seeing Ruan…

He’d acted out of instinct, shutting down the magic with a burst of will and power. Now he wished he hadn’t done that.

Samir was smart. It wouldn’t take him long to figure out what Varajas had done. He’d have questions. More questions.

Wizards and their questions.

A shudder ran through him as that thought brought the memory of Loukanos and his questions. It was time to move. Time to give him and Samir both something else to think about.

“We shouldn’t stay out here.” The shadows had gone away with Samir’s arrival, but Varajas didn’t think it was purely his imagination that low, dark shapes were still moving out in the main courtyard.

Samir looked around, following Varajas’s gaze out to the walls. “Do you see something?”

That was one thing Varajas liked about this wizard. He seemed open to the idea that other people might know just as well as he did. Whatever strange magic was happening, Samir was putting on no pretense that he understood it any better than Varajas. “There’s nothing now—I think—but there was before. Shadows.”

Said like that, it sounded silly. But Samir nodded. “Until we figure out where we are and how we got here, we should definitely listen to our instincts.”

Our. Definitely not the typical wizard.

Varajas had no reason to believe inside would be any safer, but the idea of being surrounded by walls was appealing. And if this was, somehow, Ulek, there might be resources inside. Although that would be a delicate path to tread—how to reach those resources without looking like he knew too much.

Again came the fleeting thought of how ill-suited he was to this game of pretend. The espionage with which he was going to have to live the rest of his life. How did he even balance these secrets he was supposed to keep against the danger to him and Samir?

Varajas was also smart, and it he couldn’t ignore the possibility that all this was somehow connected to the knife. Which had all manner of implications and raised any number of questions, but at the center of it all was the possibility that they wouldn’t be able to reach any answers unless Varajas came clean with Samir.

How many had already died to keep the knife secret? How much blood was already on Varajas’s hands? Was he willing to add Samir’s to that count? Was he willing to add his own?

That aggressive, murderous secrecy had gotten the knights here—to three men left and a whole world turned against them. Assuming Varajas was even still in the world. Assuming this wasn’t some weird form of hell he and Samir had fallen into.

“Let’s get inside,” Varajas said. “And then, I think, we need to talk.”

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A note from Barbara J Webb

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Barbara J Webb

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