Chapter 4

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Breakfast was a sweet rice porridge and a whole orange all to himself. Korin was downstairs early enough to meet Marta's paying boarders, but after a few minutes of silence and nervous, suspicious looks, Korin took his food and fled back up to his room. 

He'd talked Marta out of a double handful of candles and bag of salt with promises to look at her cousin's bad tooth. Other resources had been easily swiped from the kitchen. Lily had found him a small canvas shoulder-bag left by some previous boarder in which he could carry it all. Korin didn't know what all he was going to need, but these were basic tools, always useful.

For the last five years—ever since his graduation into the order of the Staff—Korin had travelled with Teriad, his teacher, and Lia, Teriad's other apprentice. Korin's time at the school of the Crystal had made him a wizard, but Teriad had taught him the deep secrets of their order, had taught him how to be a healer like no other. Always on the move, through Torar and Aleton and finally Ulek. Korin and Lia had learned the hard way, with bloody hands and worn fingers and a growing knowledge of all the horrors that could be inflicted on the human or firstborn body.

Teriad had believed they had a duty to serve, to help anyone they could. As they travelled through lands growing increasingly violent in their fear and hatred of magic, nothing had tarnished his kindness or his faith. Even when he'd thrown Korin out, told him to leave and never come back, he'd done so in his soft, gentle voice and with tears in his eyes.

Korin closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and pushed those thoughts—those memories away. The same as he'd been doing for the last few weeks. 

Ádan was already waiting for Korin in the marketplace, a wide grin on his handsome face. "Morning, Sunshine," he said cheerfully.

"You found him?" Korin asked. He couldn't help but smile back. 

"I did. The old man's name is Dustin. He was a weaver—his family has a shop over closer to riverside. A few month ago, he showed up over here, begging. Klie over there," Ádan nodded towards a table covered in fancy dyed cloth, "she gives him what food she can spare, got some of his story from him. Apparently he ran off from his family when he started to get sick. Didn't want any of them to catch it. Now he spends his nights over towards the Academy ruins. Lot of empty buildings over there, but Klie pointed me towards a couple likely places."

As Ádan led, Korin considered the new information. That Dustin was just a man—no hint of magic in his background. That he'd started spending his time near the Academy after he'd gotten sick, not before.

"Penny for your thoughts," Ádan said once they'd left the crowded market behind and moved onto quieter streets.

What thoughts could Korin share? It seemed like so much of his life had become wrapped in secrets. But they weren't secrets Korin wanted to keep. And Ádan was a friendly face—something Korin's life had lacked recently. There were some truths Korin could share without putting himself too much at risk. And it only seemed fair for Ádan to know what he was getting into.

"I came here from Ulek."

Ádan nodded. "I guessed as much."

Korin sighed. Ádan had guessed. Marta had probably guessed. He simply wasn't good at hiding things. "The old man, the way he looked—I saw that in Ulek. I saw..." His stomach clenched and his throat tightened. So hard to talk about this. But Ádan had to hear it. If he was going to help Korin, he needed to know.

So Korin came at it from a different angle. "They say Castle Ulek was one of the most beautiful places in the world, up there with Castle Darkivel and the Royal Palace here in Trisome. Growing up, there was a woman in my village who'd been there once when she was a girl. She talked about it like it was made of magic. The gardens that covered the mountains. The fountains. The topiary dragons. Like magic," Korin repeated softly.

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