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The second day of Barley Moon, Lightsbridge University, Karang, 1044 KF

"You can leave the bags there," Tris said to the porter who carried her trunk, indicating a spot under the tiny room’s window. "Thank you," she added, and pressed a coin into his hand has he straightened.

He nodded at her. "Welcome to Lightsbridge, Miss Chapman," he said, and left the room.

Tris sighed, and looked at her trunk. It too was emblazoned with the unfamiliar name: Liesa Chapman, the name she had chosen and given to her teacher when he forged the papers that would allow her to enrol in Lightsbridge as an unknown student, rather than under her true identity. Trisana Chandler, the weather-witch; Trisana Chandler, the qualified, capable mage who was the envy of her colleagues, who frightened those without magic, who couldn't earn her own keep unless she was willing to perform battle magic.

Well, that's why I'm here, isn't it? she thought, brushing off her mood. Rolling her eyes at herself, she flipped open her trunk. Inside, neatly packed, were her books and clothes - more clothes than books, but only barely; Tris had had more than a few arguments with her sister Sandry on that topic. Tris had pointed out that, as a poor mage student, she would hardly be expected to have many of the elegant, finely-made, magically designed and protected dresses, cloaks, and even undergarments that stitch-witch Sandry made for all her siblings. Sandry had tutted, and argued, and retreated to her loom to make special cloth designed to look cheaper than it felt or wore.

Tris now lifted dresses, shifts, and skirts from her trunk, and hung or folded them into the small wardrobe that took up most of a corner of the room. Shaking out a skirt, she felt the familiar touch of Sandry's magic, as though her sister had brushed her hand, and frowned a little, unhappily. It wasn't as though she hadn't just left Summersea a few weeks ago; and it was hardly the first time she'd been away from her siblings for a long period. But Lightsbridge was new and unfamiliar and Tris hadn't been able to bring so much as her dog to remind her of home. She was uneasily reminded of being ten, dumped at the Stone Circle dormitory, surrounded by girls she didn't know.

Sighing, she hung the skirt in the wardrobe and turned back to her trunk, now drawing out her small collection of jewelry. Tris was not fond of jewels, as a rule; but these earbobs and the fine chains designed to be twined through Tris' braids had been made by her sister Daja, with as much care and magical effort as Sandry had exerted. Tris fingered the hair chains, and raised a hand to the similar ones resting in her hair.

Tris wore her hair unusually: in a series of braids, tucked and pinned close to her skull or dangling loose near her face. In these braids, Tris kept bound lightning, rainy storms, and the forces of tidal waves and the molten core of the earth. Her hair was her mage's kit, and a vital part of Tris' control over her ambient magic with weather.

Unfortunately, the power bound in her hair would be visible to the powerful academic mages who would be her teachers at Lightsbridge, as well as to any of her classmates who learned to see magic as Tris and her siblings had done. Ambient magic, drawn from the world around instead of from within the mage as in academic magic, was difficult for many mages to see; but Tris' teacher Niko had informed her that the sheer power in her braids would be unmissable. As would, she reluctantly admitted, the lightning that often sparked, visibly, in her braids when she lost control.

With Daja, Tris and Niko had devised a range of pins, nets, and chains that would disguise the power in her hair from all but the mages most expert in seeing - most of whom Tris had already met five years ago in Tharios. Deceiving them would be impossible, and pointless, so Tris had written to them privately to explain that she would attend Lightsbridge and earn an academic mage's credentials under an assumed name.

Now, Tris ran her hand over the metal pins and chains and smiled as she felt Daja's magic, too, respond to her. Tucking the jewellery away, she turned to answer a rap on the door. It was the porter, returning with a tray, carefully padded and wrapped to protect the few plants in pots on the long journey from Emelan to Karang. These, too, glowed strongly with a mage's power; that of Tris's brother, Briar, a green mage of repute. Along with a small healer's kit of the potions and balms he made, he and his teacher Rosethorn had insisted that Tris would need plants in her room. As she set them out on her window sill, Tris remembered Rosethorn telling her, "Listen, I studied at Lightsbridge. Students there spend all their time in the libraries and the mages' laboratories. Academic mages don't understand how important it is to be in balance with the natural world. You'll want these; they'll remind you of home." Tris touched the plants fondly, then sighed, and turned to survey her room.

Trunk unpacked, books piled on the shelves, her writing set placed on the small desk and her bed spread with a quilt made by Sandry and their foster-mother Lark, the room felt more as though it belonged to Tris. But the sounds from outside, students shouting familiarly to each other, the clacking of expensive footwear, and the distant smells of cooking from the far-off kitchens, were unfamiliar, and Tris stood in the room uncertainly and felt lost.

*

Dear Daja,

Well, I've arrived and unpacked. Your chains look well and seem to be doing their job so far, although classes don't start until the day after tomorrow. Please tell Briar and Rosethorn that the plants survived the journey and are on a window-sill with half sun ...

*

The seventh day of Barley Moon, Lightsbridge University, Karang, 1044 KF

“Liesa! Hey, Chapman! Over here!”

Tris kept walking for a second before blinking and looking up and over the noisy dining hall to a waving hand.  I need to start answering to Liesa faster, she thought as she tracked the hand down a long arm to a dark head with close-cropped curls, crammed onto a table with five other hungry mages poking at Lightsbridge’s finest in student glop. Balancing her tray carefully, she headed over.

She paused, a bit uncertainly, as she arrived at the table.

“Sit down,” said the girl who had waved, enthusiastically. “You’re in Featherlight’s class, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” said Tris as she sat, and made a face.

Everyone laughed. “Wasn’t he a bore?” agreed the girl. “I’m Mari, by the way. These are Anders, Emi, Alaigne, Olun, and Jole - we’re all Featherlight victims. We’ve formed a support, survival and study group.”

“Bore wasn’t the word,” said the sweet-faced girl Mari had introduced as Alaigne. “Even I knew some of what he was saying was nonsense!”

Tris frowned at her plate. Her teacher Niko and her fostermothers Lark and Rosethorn had all warned her that, as a fully-accredited mage and already academically-inclined, she was likely to encounter material in beginner classes that was heavily simplified or with which she was completely familiar. Sandry and Briar had repeated them in their endeavours to convince her not to study at Lightsbridge.

“You’ll be learning things you already know, Coppercurls,” Briar had said. “What a waste of time.”

 “Why don’t you just go as yourself?” Sandry had argued. “You’re an accredited ambient mage, you’re the only person in the world, probably, who can scry on the winds - they’d welcome you! You could get the academic accreditation you want-“

“Yes, with my name and talents attached to it,” said Tris. “And the envy of half the mages this side of the Pebbled Sea. No, thank you.”

"Let her alone," said Daja. "She'll do what she wants. But it won't last," she added to Tris. "You're an ambient mage, it's part of you. You could no more stop using it than cut off a limb."

"We'll see," Tris had said, grimly. Now she stared at her plate, and the sludgy brown supposedly-stew that half-covered it, and willed herself not to be too transparently disparaging about a class, topic and teacher she ought to know nothing about. It was simply unfortunate that a theoretical course in ambient magic was required of all Lightsbridge students.

“I don’t know why we need to learn about ambient magic in the first place,” said Olun, between mouthfuls. “None of us can do it and it can’t be taught; what’s the point?” The rest of the table nodded in agreement.

“So an ambient mage doesn’t tie you into knots before you’ve figured out that they’re even a mage?” suggested Alaigne. To the others, she added, “One of the great ambient plant mages comes from the village next to ours, in Anderran. She left twenty years ago and her father’s farm still grows bigger and better vegetables than any for miles.”

“But what could she do, really?” said Olun. “Grow a giant cabbage and throw it at me?” He laughed, and so did the rest of the table except Alaigne and Tris.

“It’s interesting, though,” said Emi. “And the reading list - did you see it? - at least it’s exciting, not like old So-and-So.”

“No wonder,” said Olun, “It’s easy to be interesting when you’re working from hearsay.”

Tris felt her teeth grinding and her hair starting to frizz beneath its protective net. She hastily put her fork down, chewed and swallowed, and said, “Actually, Jaina Farwalker’s scrolls provided the basis for most of our history of magic. If her work is hearsay, so is practically everything taught at Lightsbridge.” There, that was practically restrained, she thought. Sandry would  fall over in shock.

“And there’s a text by Niklaren Goldeye as well,” said Mari. “He’s famous.”

“And good-looking,” agreed Olun with a wink. “All right, fine, I’ll give you those two, but the others?”

Tris let herself make the face she wanted to make. “No argument here. And he really didn’t know his material today,” she said.

Emi laughed. “How would you know? You’re a first-year too!”

Tris flushed, and shrugged. “I like to read.” She bent her head and applied herself to her meal as talk drifted to other topics. Liesa Chapman, Liesa Chapman, she thought. Liesa Chapman doesn’t know anything about ambient magic. Liesa Chapman definitely isn’t an ambient mage. Liesa Chapman doesn’t know Niklaren Goldeye, or Rosethorn of Winding Circle. Liesa Chapman is here to learn and qualify, not to show off.

*

Dear Sandry,

You'll be proud of me; I've made some friends. More like acquaintances. It's hard to be friends with people who don't truly know me, and in some ways they make me miss you, Daja and Briar even more...

*

The seventeenth day of Blood Moon, Lightsbridge University, Karang, 1044 KF

“Now, call your power from inside you,” a calm voice said at the front of the room. “Feel around for it.”

Tris, eyes closed, breathed deeply in the familiar pattern of meditation, and connected with her power. She felt the familiar hot brush of lightning and the wild forces of winds, calling to her and threatening to drag her out of her body and up to the top of Lightsbridge’s highest towers, and flirted briefly with the idea of running with them.

“From within, Chapman,” came the voice. “Don’t reach out; look inwards. Come now, you’re an older student, this should be familiar to you already. That’s good, Rhuday, like that, now draw it out.”

Tris maintained her breathing and thrust aside the lightning and the winds, though they continued to tug at her mental self. There - there, below the lightning and the winds, a different, less familiar light. She’d handled this power before, with Niko and with her student Glaki, whose fledgling magic was also academic rather than ambient, but it had never come as naturally to her as being a weather witch had. She felt it, reached for it - and sighed, as it slipped out of her grasp again. Frustrated, she let her breathing return to its regular pattern, and opened her eyes. Around her students, with their eyes closed, breathed more or less in the same pattern and sought their power. Clearwater walked among the sitting students, speaking softly.

Some students, like Mari and Olun, two of the students Tris sometimes studied with, seemed to have grasped their power immediately. Some, like Tris herself, shifted or struggled. As Tris stretched, she frowned, feeling something tug at her power. She looked around the room carefully, and her glance landed on Emi, whose eyes were closed but whose face was not composed. Brows furrowed, mouth twisted, Emi looked almost in pain, and as Tris watched her breathing sped up until she was nearly gasping. Tris looked over her spectacles and saw, within Emi, a flickering light that now guttered, now rushed up in a bright flame.

Tris looked around for Clearwater even as Emi cried out - and suddenly Clearwater was there, leaning over Emi and taking her hands, and Tris saw the white light of Clearwater’s magic reach out to Emi and drain off some of the fire, leaving a steady candle flame.

“Now, if a mage’s power is like Emi’s,” said Clearwater, “and that mage is working with - say - a tonic to calm heart palpitations, it may have no effect. Or it may stop the heart altogether. If the mage is working with more, shall we say, explosive powers - well, you’re all familiar with mage accidents, I’m sure.”

Tris shuddered and made the gods circle on her chest.

Emi, now the centre of attention, looked intently at the floor, and impulsively, remembering her own accidents as a student mage, Tris reached over and squeezed her shoulder. Emi glanced up and Tris tried an encouraging smile - not her best line in teaching, as Emi’s smothered giggle showed. Tris’ temper and blunt way of speaking had already become familiar to the Lightsbridge students in her class. Still, Emi looked happier now, and drawing her hand back, Tris closed her eyes and returned her breathing to the familiar pattern. From within, not without, she reminded herself. Academic magic comes from within and is held by the mage as they work ...

*

Dear Niko,

Classes have begun properly, but not much practical yet; it's mostly things I already know. Except apparently I don't know anything about ambient magic, for the mage who teaches that, Featherlight, contradicts my lived experience often. Sometimes I'd like to demonstrate in front of his nose that he's talking nonsense.

I saw Jumshida from a distance the other day, but as I asked, she did not greet me ...

The third day of Hearth Moon, Lightsbridge, Karang, 1044 KF

“Focus, Alaigne,” Tris said firmly. “Get this right and we can all go and eat something.”

“Is that a reward or a punishment?” asked Olun, leaning over the library desk.

Tris shushed him without looking away from Alaigne. “The uses of haematite.”

“Haematite ... is also known as bloodstone, because it is used to stop bleeding and to strengthen the blood?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Telling,” Alaigne said firmly.

Tris pursed her lips ... then flipped closed the book she was reading out of. “Good. Let’s eat.”

Alaigne gave a yelp of victory and leaned across to hug Tris. “Thank you, thank you!” she said, enthusiastically, and started shoving quills, ink and paper into the bag she carried. Olun, Mari, and Emi did the same, and Tris swung her already-packed bag onto her shoulder.

“How do you know all this stuff anyway?” Mari asked, rising. “You’re always reading, but I never see you study for any of our theory classes.”

I can’t exactly say I used to know an ambient stone mage and she never shut up about rocks, Tris thought. Though I wish I could. They’d like Evvy. “I like...”

“... to read!” everyone chorused along with her. “Yes, we know,” said Olun. “But we all like to read - we’re all here, aren’t we?”

Tris grinned. “Maybe my reading is just better-directed than yours,” she suggested.

“Yes, don’t think I didn’t see you with that romance yesterday,” said Mari.

“Ah, but romance is useful!” he insisted. “It came in very handy with a delightful young man who works in the kitchens last night, for example.” Tris and Mari shoved him and he laughed and leaned away. “Besides, I’ve seen you reading Winds’ Path so often you must have read it a dozen times. There’s fancy, if you like - you’re not even interested in the vision magics.”

Because I can already scry on the winds, Tris thought but didn’t say. Instead she shrugged. “Quicksilver’s amazing,” she said. “How many people have ever learned to do what she did, let alone lived to write about it?”

“She sounds terrifying, though,” put in Alaigne as they began walking towards the kitchens. “Who’d risk insanity to study scrying on the winds? There are plenty of normal vision magics that don’t kill you or drive you mad.”

Tris fell silent. Well, I would, she thought. I did. And much good did it do me, though I’m still sane.

*

Dear Briar,

Scrying the wind didn't drive me mad but lying might. Sandry spoke truly when she said how frustrated I'd be; there are mages here I've longed to speak with, mage to mage, about their work, and other mages I long to correct. But Liesa Chapman has no way to know what I know.

Please send Longnight greetings to everyone in Emelan, since I don't know if my next letters will arrive in time ...

*

The fifteenth day of Storm Moon, Lightsbridge University, Karang, 1045 KF

Tris walked into the classroom and collapsed at a desk beside Emi with a sigh. “If I never have to see Featherlight again, it’ll be too soon,” she informed the other girl.

“Don’t we have class with him again tomorrow?” Emi replied.

“Yes,” agreed Tris, “So he’d better improve dramatically over night or I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

Emi laughed. “What are you going to do, glare him to death? I think we learn smiting later ...”

Tris grinned reluctantly. “Perhaps I’ll let him live,” she said. “But he actually contradicted himself this morning, did you notice?”

“I did. And Olun did - he’s more annoyed than you are.”

“I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t pay a copper to hear Featherlight talk; if the class wasn’t compulsory ...” Both students sighed.

“Clearwater’s good, at least,” said Emi, nodding as the mage in question came into the room. “Even if she is sort of terrifying.”

Tris snorted, and Emi rolled her eyes. “We all know you’re not scared of anything, Liesa. But for we lesser mortals...”

 “Who’s talking about me now?” asked Olun as he and Mari came in and sat down behind Tris and Emi.

“Nobody bothers to talk about you when you’re not here, Olun,” said Tris.

Olun opened his mouth, but “Ssh!” said Emi, and they turned their attention towards the front of the class.

“Today you will begin to lay the charm we discussed last week into wooden bowls,” said Clearwater. “It is vital that you begin by meditating, and that you are aware of and in control of your power for the entire process.”

Tris and the others began to meditate, by now a natural action for all of the student mages. Tris breathed deeply, shouldered past her ambient magic, and began to gather the now-familiar power she found below. If it was not quite as eager as lightning to do Tris’ bidding, neither had Tris had any of the explosive, frightening accidents she had caused as a teenager in learning to control this magic. And charms are one of the easiest ways a mage can make money, Tris thought idly. I won’t have to depend on charity if I can master this. Drawing her power up, she breathed steadily as she began to sketch out the charm onto the surface of her bowl in a water-soluble ink. When she was done, the ink would wash off, but her power remain. Tris fell swiftly into the pattern and became absorbed in her work.

Some time later - she wasn’t sure how much - Tris pulled back from her bowl, stretched her neck, and inspected her handiwork. As she turned it around, she caught a glimmer of magic out of the corner of her eye, and felt uneasy. As she looked over, she saw Olun, bent over his own bowl - but unlike the other mages in the class, whose magic was burning steadily, in Olun she saw the gutter-flare flicker of magic she’d seen in Emi, just before Clearwater had rushed to help her.

Now Tris looked around for Clearwater and saw no-one. Most of the other students were absorbed in their work; some, like Tris, rested or admired completed products. Tris was the only mage among them who could see magic. Because you’re the only actual mage, fool, Tris thought. Where is Clearwater? This could go badly wrong. She watched Olun uncertainly, becoming more and more uncomfortable. The bowl in his hands began to take on the same flickering pattern, and then - Tris blinked - with a loud crack, it began to splinter, and Olun began to shake.

Emi jerked up from her bowl to look at Olun, and the resting students were all looking at him now. Emi cried out. Tris squinted - the bowl was glowing to her regular sight as well as her mage sight. She began to rise - and as she did saw Olun fling up his hands. Cat dirt, she thought, and felt almost as if time slowed down as she raised her hands to her head, flipped back her elaborate head-dress and yanked down two of her braids. From the first she released the pent-up force of an east wind and flung it towards Olun, twirling it as it went, ripping the bowl from his hands and containing it in a whirling cyclone. At the same time she tore lightning from a smaller braid and sent it streaming from her fingers to form a protective cage around the bowl. She had begun to drag her small tornado towards the window when she felt the bowl explode, with a crack, and be contained within her lightning cage.

Sighing, Tris went to the window and opened it. She tugged her cyclone with her before unwinding it carefully and letting it out the window as the east wind it had been before she’d had to use it in what she knew was, unfortunately, a somewhat spectacular demonstration of her powers. As the wind went, she grabbed her lightning cage out of it, letting the shards of Olun’s bowl fall to the ground, and braided it back into her hair. Shutting the window, she fiddled about with her hairnet more than she strictly needed to, before taking a deep breath to turn around and face the class.

The classroom was a mess. Desks had been flung to the sides and ground. Mage students stood or, in some cases, still sat around the room staring at her, and in the doorway stood Clearwater, with a face that rather reminded Tris of a thundercloud. Except not as much fun to play with, she supposed.

Tris stiffened her spine and stuck her chin up. “That’s what you can do with ambient magic, Olun,” she said. “Not mythical. See?”

Olun laughed, shakily, and after a moment Emi and Mari joined him.

“I don’t recall,” said Clearwater frostily, “ever being informed that we had an ambient mage in our midst. In fact, Mistress Chapman, I recall that your course of study is specially focused on the academics.”

Tris reached beneath her dress to yank out her mage’s medallion. “I’m already a cursed ambient mage,” she snapped, “as you can certainly see. Although you shouldn’t have to. What do you mean by leaving a bunch of students alone to do a working like this? Olun could have been killed - or the rest of us might have been.” She stalked towards the door, bending to gather her bowl and bags, then walked past Clearwater and out into the hall.

As she walked away, she let her legs begin to shake for a moment, and hung her head. So much for Liesa Chapman, academic mage. Couldn’t keep her mouth shut, couldn’t keep a lid on her damn weather magic --

“I’m glad you couldn’t,” said Olun in her ear, and Tris jumped and turned. Olun, Mari, Emi, and Alaigne stood before her, with identical worried expressions.

“Liesa?” said Mari.

“I’m sorry,” Tris said immediately.

“For what?” said Emi. “Saving our lives?”

“I mean, I guess it does mean we  have to take another class with Featherlight tomorrow,” said Olun. “She should apologise, really.”

Tris laughed in spite of herself. “Don’t - I’ve been lying to you. Well, of course you know that already. My name is Tris - Trisana - Chandler. Of Emelan.”

Alaigne’s eyes grew huge. “You’re one of those four?”

Olun took her hand and, ridiculously, kissed it.

“Enchanted to meet you,” he said. “Literally - you saved my life, Trisana Chandler of Emelan.”

 “Don’t be a ninny,” she instructed, taking her hand back.

“I’m not a ninny. I’m deadly serious. What four, Alaigne?”

You know - four siblings, ambient mages, rumours about, et cetera,” said Alaigne. “Well, you are, aren’t you?”

Tris sighed. “Yes. I’m one of those four.”

“Well, now we know why you hate Featherlight so much,” said Emi.

Olun laughed aloud. “Can you imagine - that old windbag lecturing on ambient magic - to an actual ambient mage?”

“We’re not that uncommon, you know,” pointed out Tris. “There are several at Lightsbridge.”

“None we know personally,” said Mari.

“But why didn’t you tell us?” asked Emi. “We’re friends, aren’t we?”

Tris nodded. “Yes - well, I think so,” she said, uncertainly. “I didn’t want anyone to know. I’m a weather witch and, well, Alaigne knows - my reputation precedes me. I just wanted to get a normal academic accreditation so I could work like a normal mage.”

“A normal mage?” asked Olun incredulously. “You are no more a normal mage than I am a hatstand.”

Tris glanced away. "Yes," she said, "That's sort of what I'm here to fix."

*

Dear Daja,

You were right after all: I couldn't stay quiet for as much as a year. There was an accident in class today, and I made quite a public display; if everyone doesn't know now, they will by tomorrow. ...

*

The thirtieth day of Storm Moon, Lightsbridge University, Karang, 1044KF

"Oof, it's stuffy in here," Emi complained as she slouched into their usual spot in the library.

"Better stuffy than cold," said Mari, with a dramatic shiver.

"Makes me sleepy," was Olun's contribution, while Alaigne yawned demonstratively. "Tris, can't you do something about, you know ... this?"

"Open a window," Tris said, without looking up from her book.

"Can't you ..." Alaigne wiggled her fingers.

"You can open a window from here if you really try, same as me."

"But you're faster."

Tris rolled her eyes. "Yes, because I've been studying for the past eight years. But if I try to do it the other way, I'm just as bad as you. Anyway, you need the practise."

Alaigne sighed. "I know," she agreed.

"Don't bother," said Emi, standing and going to the shutter and cracking it a little. Everyone sighed as a cool breeze filtered through, and Tris absent-mindedly reached out a finger to twirl it around, creating a little cyclone. Mari carefully reached out and squashed it to the ground, then shouted.

"That's the first time I've done that deliberately," she said, gleefully.

Olun reached over. "Do it again, Tris," he asked.

"I'm reading," Tris said pointedly, and returned her attention to the book. With half an ear she heard the group return to bickering, and smiled reluctantly.

*

Sandry, Briar, and Daja,

Well, the secret's out with a vengeance now, and everybody knows. I am officially Trisana Chandler again. I lost my temper in class on Watersday and some of the students looked quite frightened; I suppose they'll learn eventually that I don't throw off lightning willynilly. But it's not as bad as I thought; most people aren't bothered and the friends I told you about think it's funny. They don't truly understand me as you do, but they're company when I want it (and when I don't). And it's nice to really be able to talk weather magic with some of the other mages here ...