Samir was still off balance. He’d acted without thinking. Kissing Raj—that could have been such a disaster. It could still be a disaster.

He’d just needed to be out of his head, to break free of the mental paralysis that had threatened to drag him back down into nightmares. And it had worked for that, and Raj had kissed him back, like he’d wanted it too, and while that was absolutely a more pleasant complication, it was a complication and Samir wasn’t sure he needed any more of those.

He knew what Sheluna would say, if she were here. She’d encourage him to take the risk. Remind him just how long he’d been living in hiding.

What are you hiding from, Samir? A soft question from Varajas. One he didn’t answer. Instead, he pulled Krys in close and stroked her soft belly, trying to think through the magic he wanted to do.

“Our presumption is that there’s some sort of magic keeping people away from here. We’ve seen the effect—that we just don’t think about this place when we’re not standing here—but we don’t know how it’s being accomplished.”

“It’s making us forget, right? Somehow?”

“Maybe.” The kitchens weren’t the best place for what Samir wanted. That much he knew. He gestured for Raj to follow and started walking again. “Affecting our minds is the obvious approach, but not the only one.”

“What other possibilities are there?”

“Well, for example, the magic could be on the castle itself. Changing the world around it so it doesn’t entirely exist, which makes it hard for us to know about it.”

Raj lifted an eyebrow. “That sounds complicated.”

“All magic is complicated until you figure out what you’re doing. After that…” Samir shrugged. “It’s not impossible. It would just take power and control. More than most wizards have, maybe, but not off the scale.”

“Who would have the training for something like that?”

It was a good question, and one Samir didn’t have an answer to.

The castle’s main courtyard was the space Samir wanted. It was a threshold, a place where the castle became the castle. It would make for a good anchor point.

He pointedly didn’t look in the direction of the bodies hanging over the front gate. Neither, he noted, did Raj.

Bolt found a shady spot where he could settle and keep an eye on everyone.

Samir stroked Krys’s head, then released her to find a different perch. He was going to need both hands. From inside his jacket, he pulled out his fate deck.

“The good news is, I shouldn’t need to know what the magic is doing in order to counter it.”

Raj nodded, as though that were obvious. “You don’t need to counter it. You just need a back door of sorts.”

Show-off. Ruan’s voice.

“Exactly.” Samir began to idly shuffle the cards as he thought about the framework he needed to build.

Raj watched. “You know, I haven’t seen many wizards who actually use the fate deck for magic.”

“How many wizards have you seen?” Samir challenged.

Raj shrugged. “More than a few.”

Part of Prince Lysander’s guard, so it made since he would have rubbed shoulders with more wizards than the average soldier. “I had a teacher in school—I was trained at the Star—it made sense to me. I like it.”

“But you joined the Wing.”

Raj was just making conversation, Samir reminded himself. He had no way of knowing how intrusive these questions were.

Hardly intrusive. It’s a perfectly reasonable topic of conversation. Varajas sounded a little defensive.

Shhh. Let me focus. Samir was settled enough in the magic that the idle mental conversation wasn’t going to disrupt him, but it was an easy excuse to shut that line of talk down.

Samir stopped shuffling and flipped the top card of the deck. The Tower, with its beautiful rendition of Ulek. Raj blinked at the sight of it. Samir placed it on the ground. “This will be my anchor. I’m going to…it’s a little hard to explain. I’m going to try to tie us to the reality of this place. Not a literal binding, but a line of connection so that our reality and its reality stay linked.”

Oh god! Samir pulled back from himself mentally, became more centered in the him that was watching this play out. Did I do this? Am I the reason we’re stuck here?

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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