Mikhael had always thought of the members of the Underground as a sort of family. They took care of one another, or so he thought. If something happened to one of the agents while on a mission, the others would make sure he had everything he needed. That was what he thought, anyway.

Now he knew differently. So caught up in the ceremonies surrounding magic, they hadn’t even acknowledged him until he actually gone through the labyrinth inscribed on the tiles leading to the Sanctuary. By then it was too late. The poison had already eaten away at his leg. He passed out as soon as he crossed the thresh-hold the second time. The pain from his leg had been unbearable.

He woke with no pain at all. He’d said as much and received a grim look from Dasha. His leg was gone, they’d told him eventually. It had been the only way to save his life. With only one leg, there was no way he could be an agent. Still there was his bookshop and the library in the Sanctuary. He was still as knowledgeable a spell-seeker as he had been, even lacking a leg.

He’d asked Evgeny, his partner, to please have someone open the shop, at least so the special orders he often received would be taken care of. They would bring in enough revenue to pay the daily taxes. He’d hoped the man would be willing to help him in this.

Now he stood on the front stoop of his shop. “Repossessed for back taxes,” the sign read. Mikhael wanted to scream out his utter despair and frustration at the world. He’d lost his leg, his shop, all his worldly possessions and for what? Nothing changed. Nothing ever would. The government would continue to round up the “useful” mages. The books of magic would continue to be collected by the same government and tucked away so none could learn magic except through the government programs. Those deemed superfluous would continue to be eliminated.

He sank to the ground and sighed as the last shreds of his hope faded into the wind. Without a shop in town, the Underground would see him as a burden. They’d already said they could afford to support every disenfranchised mage in Claris.

“You look like you could used some help,” a soft voice said from across the alley. Mikhael looked up and chuckle wryly. Was this stranger offering? That was too much to hope for. Before he could even protest the man had plucked him up off the steps and was carrying him down the street.

Was the man a mage hunter? Mikhael didn’t care. His life couldn’t get any worse.