“Lightsbridge. I see,” said Niko, at something of a loss for words. In all the futures he’d seen with — and without — Tris, his old alma mater had not featured prominently.
What would one of his most promising students, so much like himself, want in such a place?
Then he grimaced. What right did he have to tell her what to do with her life? What right, when he had kept disappearing like the sun at twilight as soon as he noticed she was safely ensconced at Discipline? Rosethorn and Lark had more claim than he did, to —
“You hate Lightsbridge,” she said defiantly, into his silence. “You and Rosethorn. She always says that it’s hidebound and full of idiots.”
Niko sighed. He would have to have a word with Rosethorn. He said very carefully, “Rosethorn and I went to Lightsbridge at a time when it was indeed hidebound. Ambient magic was not well understood - this at a university, mind you. Even now, you will find it less… tractable than Winding Circle in some ways. Rosethorn still resents the prejudice against her magic.”
“Whatever you decide to do,” he said, holding up a hand to stop further protests, “All of your teachers and, yes, that includes Rosethorn - will support you. Crane is prepared to recommend you to two or three excellent universities, Lightsbridge among them. I could even visit, if my travels take me north.”
“They’ll know you,” she told him, in a final attempt at evasion. “The famous Niklaren Goldeye.”
Niko grinned at her. “Your flattery is noted, but I think not. It’s been years since many of them have seen me. Only Smokewind knows me. If I travel under my pre-mage name, few people will remember me.”
Despite himself, he felt a thrill of excitement. He could see the northern lights, a marvel of magic and sacred to Asaia. As a boy he had been no further than Rumsk, and it was only when his visions started to get worse that he’d gone north to Karang.
After her tour of the campus, Tris marched straight to her room, heaved her cases onto her bed and began to unpack. Sandry had given her enough clothes to fill her cupboard one-and-a-half times over.
Her attempts to stuff them all onto her shelves were disturbed by the arrival of a bevy of girls. One of them was a redhead like herself, another two looked Yanjingyi or Gyongxin and a third had the sharp features and blonde hair of a local. She pushed a glittering snowman in front of her, making it laugh and waggle its carrot nose.
Splendid, thought Tris. Not only is my new roommate a show-off, she already knows more academic magic than me. But no matter how many times Tris told herself that she was an adult and a qualified mage now, it seemed harder to say hello than to conjure a few winds. You're only acting, she told herself firmly. Socialising a little won't kill you. Mila knows it would look odd for a merchant not to.
And that settled it. She'd rather blend in than be thought strange. It was time to test out her new identity and see how it held up. If that meant treating friendship like an experimental piece of research, as Sandry might accuse her of doing, well, too bad.
Ignoring the lurch of her stomach, she abandoned her book and rose. "I'm Tr - Treiada Draper," she stammered, trying for coolness and failing. She'd almost blurted out her real name. I have to remember better than that! she thought, blushing.
Luckily, the other girls seemed just as nervous. The “local” girl, all her earlier bravado gone, introduced herself as Annelise - it turned out she was from halfway across Karang and had grown up in another large city. Both of the Yanjingyi girls, Li Hua and Li Fen, spoke Common with such a strong Karangi accent that Tris had to almost strain to make it out. She had to smile, despite herself, out of sheer nerves at the novelty of it all. The Yanjingyi girl gave Tris a wide smile back, and she shook hands readily (Tris would have to get used to the northern way of greeting people, she realised belatedy). The redheaded girl, Eikana, was more reserved, but the other girls talked mostly of festivals, dances, performers at local taverns, and the upcoming Longnight celebration. There was also a gathering for new students on the sixteenth of Hearth Moon, only three days away.
Smokewind proved as elusive as his name. By the time Tris tracked him down, through turret and architrave, she was ill-tempered from the walk and in no mood for the usual gruff, or reedy-voiced, professor.
To her surprise, Smokewind was neither. He was about as old as the hills and looked as though he should be headed off to retirement, but he sat down with her rather than fobbing her off on his assistant.
“I apologise, Miss…” He consulted his list. “Chandler, or should I say Draper. You’ve put down healing, correct?”
“General academic magic. Sir. Specialising in healing.” Enough to eke out a living from charms, scraps of spells and other oddments.
He gave her an odd look. “Niklaren tells me you’re registered as an ambient weather and lightning mage at Winding Circle. It offers very fine - although unorthodox - academic magic courses. Why come to Lightsbridge?”
Feeling her face turn red, Tris looked down and counted to ten. There’s no point crisping people who ask stupid questions, she reminded herself sternly.
“I’m well-known in Summersea, and I had - a non-traditional education,” she said, when she’d regained her composure. “Even for Winding Circle. I want to make my living from something that isn’t so erratic.” Or destructive, or antagonising.
He leaned forward. “It’ll be just that, Miss Chandler. Even if you take to academic magic - and not all ambient mages do - I’d encourage you to specialise. Especially given your background and your… academic credentials, healing or criminology is a good fit. Don’t bother with anything more specific.” He looked at her keenly. “You’ll never become a true healer, mind. Healing magic can’t be taught. But if you’ve the aptitude and the stomach for it, you might make an assistant. If Niklaren recommends you, that’s a rubber stamp. But you won’t get special treatment.”
Tris nodded. “I won’t let your professors know,” continued Smokewind, and began to gather his papers.
Excusing herself, Tris went to look at the notices on the board outside his office. Most of them were for positions wanted.