Voba slipped the young travelers some ale, daring the three older ones in the corner of his pub to challenge him. While he admitted a sense of loss when Atkinson vanished that night, the innkeeper could only thank Quinton for keeping the child safe. Curse logic in acknowledging the svelte man with his back to the wall as “Allen” or “Atkin.” Voba couldn’t do it, so refused to call him by name.

“Do you think we’ll ever find Michael Sorpha,” Colina asked after emptying her glass in one gulp. Voba smirked

“Do you want to find him” Ilda asked, silently letting Colina take her serving as well.

Behaim studied the contents, keeping it arm’s reach from the one in the middle. “You seem to forget what’s been said about him – how his skin can cut yours alone, or how he prefers to move through the mist of night. They say he can tell a solo traveler in twilight the same way predators could smell blood of a wounded prey.”

Colina snorted. “Tales, all of them. His beliefs are the same as the true magistrates – keep things pure and-.”

Voba sloshed the ale over her hand when he refilled the cup. “Keep things pure,” he mimicked. “Do you have any idea how red the rivers are or how many tears have filled the lakes for the sake of wanting to ‘keep things pure?’ Your teacher over there, the one you spit on – his family was slaughtered. He is the last of his line. Listen to the others and they have lost someone, too.”

Before Ilda or Behaim could stop her, Colina threw the remains of her drink at him, only to have the contents spill on her instead before the innkeeper grabbed her wrist. Voba gave a silent directive to the chaperones now on their feet, a shield between him and the stubborn child who reminded him of his lost Jocelyn.

“You’re nothing more than a barreling bundle of burrs,” Colina said.

Voba’s eyes narrowed. The uncommon expression was one he taught his child. Glancing towards Atkin, he saw the other man knew, too – as did Desmon and Jalem. “Michael Sorpha was closer to you than you thought,” he said.