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Playing dirty

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The hardest part hadn’t been getting used to a new name.  Trisana Chandler was too well known a mage, even more now that the story of the events in Namorn had spread.  Niko had helped, drilling her for hours on the name and history he’d helped her create.  She could give enough details about her supposed history to fit most casual conversations at Lightsbridge, assuming that her fellow students even cared to ask.  They mostly didn’t, more concerned with whether or not she had the book they were planning on using for a paper, or if she had understood what the technical definition of an enchantment was verses a charm, as they hadn’t caught it when the teacher discussed it in class. 

It hadn’t been the daily rigors of her classes, either.  Much though her foster siblings would never understand, Tris actually liked the harsh intellectual routine, liked the rambling philosophical discussions and the history behind the development of certain spells.  She’d always felt comforted and safe with books and with study in a way that even Briar, the next most book-hungry of her siblings, could never believe.  Books had been her friends in the harsh years before she’d come to Winding Circle.  They’d guided her through her apprenticeship, and been companions on the road when she traveled with Niko.  Winding Circle had also been rigorous, even with its different focus, and Niko had trained at Lightsbridge for long enough that he had often reverted to that particular teaching style with her.  She was used to having a teacher throw out an initial question to the class and then argue with her while she explained her stance. 

It hadn’t been the reality of University life, the small rooms and simple fare that her peers complained of, most of them children of wealthy households who had never had to settle for less than they wanted ever before in their lives.  Tris had been an unwanted child, and then lived at Winding Circle, before traveling hither and yon with her teacher for four years.  She was far less comfortable with being served than with making due.  Yes, she knew she could cook better meals than were typically served to the students, but the food was still decent, available in sufficient quantities, and hadn’t made her sick yet.  There were inns she had stayed in while traveling with Niko where she could not have said that about them. 

It wasn’t not using her weather magic, though that had been a long process to train herself back out of always having a nest of winds, or playing with the lightning in her braids.  Niko again had helped, forcing her to go a month without once shunting the rain away, or cooling herself with a gentle breeze when she sat in Daja’s workshop.  She’d lost her temper at him and at her siblings more than once that month, frustrated at not using something which had become more a part of her than her hands.  But it had broken her of her habits, and now she could shunt her magic into the charms and spells of Lightsbridge without much more than a moment’s awkwardness, which she felt only aided in the pretense that she was still learning the basics. 

It wasn’t even the absence of her foster-siblings, separating again after a winter together in Summersea.  Though she was too far out to regularly speak through their bond, she was close enough to feel them out at the edge of a tether.  And with all of them back to staying in one place for a long enough time, they were able to send letters on a regular basis and actually receive more than one in three.  She heard from Sandry about Daja’s flirtation with a lady potter living down the lane, from Briar about Vedris’s plans to install Sandry as his heir, and Sandry’s determined obliviousness to that fact, and from Daja about Briar’s meetings with a mind-healer and the progress she saw in him.  There were times she still missed her foster-siblings desperately, but her studies helped ground her, and she had gotten used to time on her own when she traveled. 

No the hardest thing about Lightsbridge was that she could not use her reputation as a powerful mage to force idiots into not talking. 

“…And of course, these so-called ambient mages are nothing of the sort.  Obviously, some people’s talents are more easily attuned to specific forms of magic: we have vision mages such as our own Niklaren Goldeye, battle mages, healers, and so forth.  But to say that some forms of magic are only enacted through a craft?  It’s nonsense.  And worse, it’s inelegant.  Imagine, only being able to do magic if you’ve got a bit of string in your hands, or you’re grubbing in a garden patch!” Shaunuld ei Pragen was minor nobility, with all the pomposity and convictions of superiority that had soured Tris on the majority of the noble classes, Duke Vedris and Sandry notwithstanding.  He pontificated to a group of his hangers-on, sitting at one of the larger tables at the library. 

 He continued, not seeming to need to stop for breath, “Take those so-famous mage children from Winding Circle, the ones with all those stories about their gifts.  We know how much rumor grows in the telling of it, so let’s pretend for a minute that they’ve done a tenth of what they are said to have.  If they have any magical skills at all, why were they not properly identified as mageborn and trained properly?  Lady Sandrilene is even said to spend most of her time spinning thread and weaving.  How is that suitable for a noble lady?  Much less the fact that she spends all her time with a Trader and a gardener, as if they were appropriate companions for nobility.”

At that, one of the less annoying hanger’s on piped up, “But what of the stories out of Namorn?  The one gardener was invited in to work directly with the Empress, they say, and he turned her own plants against her when she tried to keep them in the country.  And that weather witch stood against Ladyhammer herself.”

 Shaunuld laughed mockingly, “Do you believe everything you hear about those four?  No, I hear they were laughed out of the court of Namorn after the empress found they weren’t nearly as special as what the stories said.” 

Tris seethed, clenching at the book she had been engrossed in before the idiots had invaded.  Niko had warned her about this, that many of the mage students at Lightsbridge would be dismissive of ambient magic, or hostile to the stories about her and her siblings.  And she’d dealt with nasty gossip from her early childhood onwards, made worse when she began to hear whispers on the wind and caught the things said when people assumed she was too far away to hear.  It still made her blood boil to think that all the pain they had endured in Namorn was reduced to stories of their power or mocking rumors spread by the imperial court to cover up the empress’s misdeeds. 

She kept her head down, peering sideways through her braids at the group.  If her siblings were here...  Sandry would have gone over there by now, glaring imperiously down her snub of a nose and pulling her noble-ness out of thin air to cow them all while she read off a lecture.  Pragmatic Daja would have ignored it, or left the area with her staff in hand, and gone to make nails until she was no longer frustrated with the world. Briar?  She smiled.  Briar would pull a prank on them, teach them not to let themselves get cocky. 

She wasn’t near the prankster Briar could be, but it wouldn’t take much.  It had already been raining steadily the past few days, and the ground was saturated.  The air temperature had taken a colder turn, but the ground hadn’t frozen –not yet at least.

She waited, keeping an eye on the whole group until they gathered their books to leave.  She still couldn’t see how any of them had gotten any actual studying done, they’d been so noisy, but it wasn’t her business if they failed a course.  While they were still milling around each other and making sure they’d gathered all their bits of parchment, she slipped out the door ahead of them. 

It was the work of a few seconds to pull the moisture in the ground and concentrate it in the area right beyond the entrance to the library.  Another few breaths saw a thin layer of ice forming, mixing in with the mud.  It was a release using her magic properly, not stifling it into a charm or set-spell, even if she still couldn’t use it openly. 

Shaunald and his hangers-on barged out of the library as noisily as they’d made their way in, paying no attention at all to the ground beneath their feet.  She waited until most of them were on the thin ice over the mud patch, then released the strengthening she’d been applying to the ice. It cracked under the weight of their feet, like she’d planned, and a good half of the group toppled into the mud-puddle, splashing their cohorts.  Shaunald himself went face first, and emerged drenched in mud, a large glop sliding off his long nose and splashing down on an already soaked tunic.  He sputtered, and Tris had to bite her lip to avoid laughing and giving herself away. 

She ducked out of sight and took the long way back to the dorms, passing closer to the walls and feeling the breeze blow down.  Perhaps Niko would have admonished her for such a piece of petty revenge, but for once Tris thought Briar had the right of it.  Making the foolish look as foolish as they were was a bit of fun. 

And now she knew what she was writing about in her letter back to her siblings today.