by Holly Heisey -
Iri looked up from where she crouched feeding days-old mush to a rib-thin orphan boy. Shouts were coming down the corridor, educated voices. She stood to yell for the dozen or so orphans to disperse—
But the shouting men reached the corridor junction. One, gray-haired and flabby, stabbed a finger directly at her.
“You’re exploiting them—children!—in your mad ploys to get ahead of us!”
The second man she knew: Drake, the good wizard. “And your experiments with the Happy Bin are ethical? We don’t learn of an encounter until you’ve already spun the report your way.”
“Spin my reports?” The older man must also be a wizard, though Iri hadn’t seen this one around. “You’re training a bloody army to your own perverted way of thought. Sick! Sick!”
Iri—Whales protect her—could not help stepping out. “Drake saves us.” The two men stared at her. She licked her lips and forged on. “He gives us meals for learning that will get us out of here.” She stepped closer, next to Drake.
Something hit Iri hard on the cheek and she spun before she could right her balance.
“Fool girl,” Drake hissed. “Stay out of our wars if you know your own good.”
Iri stared at the wizard, tears stinging her eyes. She had hoped…someone cared for them…
“You hit her!” The older wizard lunged for Drake—Drake whipped out a silvery tool and touched it to the older man’s chest. The older wizard collapsed, spasming.
Iri covered a yelp.
“I help you, yes,” Drake said, “but only those who can be helped.” He spun and strode off, his coattails swirling.
Iri crouched beside the older wizard.
“That man…is a poison,” he said.
Iri didn’t have anything to say to that. She needed to think. She needed to think long and hard about what—if anything—to do next.
“Help me up.”
Iri helped the older wizard to his feet and he swayed a moment before brushing off his rich brocade coat. “I’m Wizard Encimanion Coriander Peronnel,” he said. “You contact me if Drake ever tries to take one of you again.”
Iri didn’t have anything to say to that, either, but she nodded, and it satisfied the wizard enough for him to walk away. He didn’t give a second look at the orphans he almost crushed underfoot.