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7 Seed Moon, 1044 K.F.

Dear Sandry, Briar and Daja,

I’m writing to you three together because I’m not up for the scolding I know I’d get from anyone I didn’t write to first. Besides, I have no intention of writing the same news three times over. So I’m writing one letter and addressing it to 6 Cheeseman Street and you can all read it.

My journey here was smooth and uneventful. I arrived yesterday, as planned, and have a full day to settle in before the term officially starts tomorrow. My first impression of Lightsbridge was that it’s big, much bigger than I expected. For a few minutes after my arrival I couldn’t fathom where all the students came from, until I remembered that, of course, its an entire university, and most of them aren’t mages at all. It will be very strange to be among so many non-magical students. I’m hoping I can mostly avoid them. Don’t look like that, Sandry, you know I’m not good with strangers. It will be work enough trying to get along with all these academic mages. I will probably spend most of my time in the library.

Upon registering, I was given a roommate and a course schedule - apparently autonomy isn’t something they cultivate in first term mages. My course schedule informs me that I will be taking Introduction to Magic, Elementary Runes, and Basic Spells and Charms. Niko told me to expect the first two, but the third must be a newer addition to the curriculum. Introduction to Magic is the broad survey course intended to catch everyone up to the same place. Some students are able to test out of it and start with more advanced class, but Niko advised me against that. He seems to think it will actually be the hardest class for me this term, because it is going to involve re-learning things I’ve been doing automatically with ambient magic since I was 10. Personally I’m looking forward to the challenge. If I can’t manage to something basic like moving objects, this entire experiment is going to be pointless. As I do not intend it to be pointless, I will have to find a way.

The other two classes should be easier because they are newer areas of knowledge. I’ve taught myself a few of the more basic runes, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn from an expert. Niko speaks very highly of the runes professor, a Master Smokewind, who evidently taught back when he attended. As for Spells and Charms, I have always intended to make a more thorough survey of the most commonly used academic spells and charms for a variety of common concerns, but life is always getting in the way. One clear advantage of the academic structure at Lightsbridge is that I will be expected to prioritize these courses, and am less likely to be interrupted by earthquakes and pirates and unsolved crimes, the way I always seem to be elsewhere. All in all, I’m looking forward to the term.

I anticipate my new roommate with considerably less excitement. The sheet I was given informs me that her name is Analise Pelton and she comes from Ninver. She has not arrived yet, so I immediately claimed the bed by the window and quickly unpacked my belongs to forestall any attempt to initiate a switch. I cannot say I look forward to sharing a room with a stranger. The last time I was expected to do so was when Niko brought me to Winding Circle. In case any of you have forgotten, I summoned a wind that destroyed my dormitory, alienated my fellow students, and called lightning down to strike a tree. I realize my power is under more control these days, but still. Historically I do not do well living with strangers.

After getting settled in my room I immediately headed for the university library. You know I am not prone to exaggeration, so I trust it will communicate how truly astonishing this library is when I say it was beyond even my wildest imagination. The main room has giant, arching ceilings three stories high, all filled with rows and rows of beautiful, leather-bound volumes. Off of this main room, which easily has more books than I have ever seen in one place, there are 8 additional rooms, also completely lined with books, each dedicated to a specific area of learning. The library also has 5 or 6 dedicated reading rooms filled with comfortable chairs, cozy fireplaces, and dozens of students industriously bent over their work. And this is only the main university library - there are dozens of other libraries on campus in addition to this one. I intend to visit them all, of course. Say what you will about academic mages, they clearly have a proper respect for the written word.

I have been seated in one of the reading rooms in the main library for about an hour, writing this letter to you all. I wouldn’t say I’m avoiding my room, but I can’t say I’m eager to return without knowing if or when my roommate will be there. However, this is what I committed to and I am determined to do it. So no need to write me about how I can give it all up and come home, because it won’t do any good. I’ve made up my mind to succeed, and so I will.

Give my [something crossed out] regards to Lark and Rosethorn, and please tell Glaki that Chime and I miss her.

Yours,
Tris

 

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11 Seed Moon, 1044 K.F.

Dear Coppercurls,

Your letter arrived last night while we were eating dinner, so I read it out loud to the girls. There was a great deal of boo-hooing and fuss, which I did not approve of. Girls! Forever making a scene. Me, I don’t see why a letter from someone who already told us she was planning to write regularly is worth a fit of weeps.

You haven’t missed much around here since your departure. Sandry is busy at the Citadel, Daja is busy at the forge, and I’m busy enjoying myself. Actually, Sandry has got me looking over all the gardens attached to the duke’s lands, which is interesting work and keeps me busy enough. But I’m nowhere near a busy as Daja. Now that word has gotten around that the Living Metal Mage has settled in Summersea, her trade has really picked up. There’s been a steady stream of people coming through, and we get several letters a week to the house attempting to commission custom pieces. Her wait time is already measuring in months, and soon enough it will be in years. I wouldn’t be surprised if she needs to take on an apprentice, even one without magic, just to help with all the work she’s taking in.

By the time you read this, I imagine you’ll have already met your new roommate. I hope you took care and minded all of my advice about deception. Keep it simple, because remembering complex stories takes effort. Hiding your magic is going to be tough enough without trying to remember an elaborate tale. And remember, the best lies have a kernel of truth to them. Whenever possible, stick to reality and change only what’s needed. And finally, always lie with confidence. I’d normally suggest a smile and some charm can go a long way to smooth over a tall tale, but I know better than to ask charm of you, Coppercurls. You’re far better off being too prickly and stand-off-ish to invite any close questions.

Mmm. That new cook you hired before you left just took a batch of my favorite spice cookies out of the oven. I imagine they’re intended for dinner, but nobody will be any the wiser if I nick a few and eat them now. They’re quite good - not as good as yours, of course, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make in the name of your education.

Speaking of your education, your classes sound dreadful! But I’m not the one attending university as an already credentialed mage. Most of what you study sounds dreadful to me anyways, so perhaps you will like it. That library sounds first rate, though, and you’re just the person to appreciate it. At any rate, don’t you go giving up and coming home this soon, because I bet Sandry that you’d at least last a month and I want to make her pay up.

Briar

P.S. Sandry refuses to let me send this letter until I tell you that we did not, in fact make any such bet. She wants you to know that you have our full support and that we are in no way rooting for you to come home. Girls, honestly, no fun at all.

P.P.S. Daja wants to point out that if I had intended to nick the cookies and get away with it, I probably shouldn’t have confessed it in writing. I don’t know why she needs to stick her neb into my personal correspondence.

 

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15 Seed Moon, 1044 K.F.

Dear all,

I am happy to report that the first official week of the term has gone very smoothly. I’ve met my roommate and attended all of my classes at least once, and nobody has guessed I’m any more than a regular mage student. Nobody shoots me nervous glances or knowing looks. In fact, many of the other students I’ve met once or twice have no memory of meeting me the next time we cross paths. I’m actually quite enjoying it!

The hardest part so far was meeting my roommate. Yes, Briar, I was mindful of all of your advice about deception, and stuck to the story we’d rehearsed. She knows me as Trina Chester, born and raised in Summersea, daughter of local merchants. I’d hoped the story would be sufficiently unremarkable to discourage follow up questions, but I hadn’t quite counted on Analise’s friendliness. She wanted to know what goods my parents deal in (I told her books), if I had any siblings (I went with a brother and two sisters, keeping to Briar’s advice to stick to the truth whenever possible), and the details of my early magical training.

“Pretty typical,” I told her, thinking a vague reply might be best. I recalled Daja’s advice about shifting the focus of an undesirable line of inquiry. “What about you?”

“Oh, same,” she said easily. I thought wryly how very unlikely it was that her early magical training had anything in common with mine. “Magic sniffers found me at 6, my parents hired a magical tutor for me around 10 to cover the basics, I outgrew him around 13 and have been wild to come here ever since, blah blah blah. How old were you when you were found?”

The problem with friendly people, I reflected, is that they are so curst chatty. Happily, Chime chose this moment to make her presence known, drawing Analise’s attention. And the nice thing about Chime is that I don’t even have to change the real story to explain her.

“A journeyman glassmaker made her,” I said in response to her wondering look. “His magic got away from him and the result was Chime. I was nearby at the time, and she attached herself to me and has been with me ever since. It’s okay if you touch her, she’s not nearly as fragile as she looks.”

This topic shift was more than sufficient to draw Analise’s attention away from the details of my past. After that I guided the conversation onto the topic of our courses. Analise tested out of Introduction to Magic and is taking the first course in the scrying sequence, creatively titled Scrying, Term 1, in its place. She’s in my other two courses with me.

Aside from Analise, I haven’t had too many specific questions about my background. I do keep forgetting to respond when people address me as Trina, though. I’m developing a bit of a reputation as an absent-minded daydreamer, since I always appear to be too distracted to notice when people are trying to address me. I can’t say that reputation particularly bothers me.

I’ve attended the first meeting of all of my classes, and been to Introduction to Magic twice, because it meets twice a week. It’s a fairly big class, because it’s offered as an introduction to magic for both mages and students studying other areas at the university. The course is divided into two sections, one for those of us in the College of Magic, and one for everyone else. The first meeting each week is for both sections and is a theoretical and/or historical lecture on a basic magical skill. The second meeting, at least for our section, is a practical lecture on the technique of implementing whatever we have covered earlier in the week. It initially struck me as a bit odd to combine the two sections into a single course, but I guess I can see the logic behind it. The history behind the magic that allows academic mages to levitate objects across the room is the same whether or not you have the ability to practice the spell.

Not surprisingly, I suppose, there hasn’t been any mention of ambient magic in that course. I don’t mind it, though. The history of ambient magic is so different, and so tied to the history of the individual craft or medium it is expressed through. I suspect people have been practicing ambient magic far longer than we have any way of knowing, far earlier than any records would indicate. It would be impossible to cover all of ambient and academic magic in one course. So I imagine the course is titled Introduction to Academic Magic and don’t mind at all. It’s what I came here to learn, after all.

Elementary Runes and Basic Spells & Charms have only met once each. Elementary Runes has been an unexpected pleasure. Master Smokewind is just as learned and thorough as Niko promised. He spent the entirety of the first lecture focused on the symbol for light, exploring how the different flourishes in the calligraphy can impact its effect. He said the next lecture will be focused on how the same variations manifest when inscribed in different materials. This was particularly impressive as, in a room full of academic mages, I was likely the only person who had not been making objects glow since early childhood without significant effort. It is unlikely any of them will ever have need for that ruin as an independent magical working. I can appreciate someone who is so dedicated to theory.

Basic Spells and Charms, however, is another story entirely. The professor, Master Starglass, is truly insufferable. He is a terribly boring lecturer, one of those people whose tone of voice just puts you to sleep. Our first lecture was all about the virtue of spells and incantations over runes. I have a feeling it’s going to be a fairly common topic in his course. Normally, I’d be interested in examining the merits of two different magical techniques, but there is something about the way that Master Starglass talks that really irritates me. The more he puts down runes, the more I like them. It’s one thing to have a reasoned academic debate, but his lecture was more like unnecessary magical one-upmanship. He reminds me of some of the academic mages I’ve met on my travels, more focused on his own importance than in making a meaningful contribution. I’m not surprised to find his type at Lightsbridge, but I hope that most won’t be like him.

It sounds like you are all keeping busy, as usual. Daja, make sure you’re charging enough for your work. I know you don’t need the money right now, but that’s no reason to let people undervalue you. The Lightsbridge mages do have one thing right: you’re a fully credentialed mage with a unique and valuable skill set. You are important, and deserve to be paid as such. I doubt it’s something Frostpine ever talked much about, but you haven’t taken vows of poverty in service to the Living Circle. And in case you need to be reminded, not all of us are lucky enough to be able to make something others are willing to pay for. So for my sake, if not your own, please be sure you are driving a hard bargain.

Yours,
Tris

 

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19 Seed Moon, 1044 K.F.

Dearest Tris,

Daja wants me to assure you that she is squeezing every copper crescent out of any customer who deserves it, and that she’s always made a habit of over-charging the hamot (that’s idiots, in case you’ve forgotten your tradertalk lessons) so she can undercharge the poorer customers who can’t afford her prices. She says she’s offended that you even need to ask, but I’m sure she doesn’t mean it.

We all miss you terribly, you know. I’m still not sure why you had to go, but I promised I wouldn’t bring that up anymore, and so I won’t. I’m glad to hear that your classes are going well so far. Well, for the most part - that Master Starglass sounds exactly as dull as I always imagine academic mages to be. Although truly, even the other classes sound strange to me. I’m just not used to thinking of magic as something that can be taught the same way for every student every time. Our training was so tailored to our own magics, and shaped by the needs and events at the time. And yet even the students at Winding Circle receive some standard classes together, with everyone progressing through the same initial steps largely in unison, I believe. Our magical education was so different because - well, because Niko thought it was best, I suppose. I guess he knew that it wouldn’t work for a bunch of kids, Mila bless him, or at least a bunch of kids with magic as strange as ours. It just goes to show that not all academic mages are as dry and rigid as your Master Starglass.

Although, now that I think of it, we are clearly very lucky that Niko was the one who discovered our magic and that he was open-minded enough to think beyond his own magical education. It's hard to believe our magic would have developed to be so unusual if we had been taught in a more traditional, restricted manner. Not that I’m speaking against the structure of the Lightsbridge training in general, you understand. And that is what you went there for, so I’m glad you are enjoying it. Still, it is strange to think that our magical education was, by most standards, quite unusual. It certainly didn't seem it at the time. I wonder if our teachers ever received any pushback from the Council about the way they were training us. I believe I shall ask Lark about it the next time I’m at Discipline for a visit.

Speaking of which, I stopped by Discipline on Watersday for a chat with Lark, and Glaki overheard me updating her on your arrival at Lightsbridge. She asked if I talked to you, and I explained that its too far to Lightsbridge for us to mind-speak the way we do here, but that we had gotten a letter from you. It was Lark who suggested that Glaki might like to draw you a picture and send a message through me, which she seemed very pleased to do. She disappeared for some time and it wasn’t until the bells chimed for the midday meal that she came with the drawing that I’m enclosing. She’s actually becoming quite a good artist. The drawing is easily recognizable as you - note the care with which she drew your braids, and the lightning on your dress. I’m not sure you own anything that color, but not everyone is as attentive to clothes as I am.

That reminds me, let me know how the new gowns I made you are holding up. I quite enjoyed sewing a spell of misdirection into the seams; I’m so used to the rainy day charms at this point, that it was nice to have something new. I’m sure all of Briar’s tips about deception are more than enough, but hopefully the gowns will throw off anyone who starts to get a little suspicious over your cover story, Trina. If you are liking them, let me know and I’ll make a few more. I’ve less time for major magical works, unfortunately, what with all the help I’m giving to Uncle these days. But having small projects like your gowns gives me a good excuse to keep up my sewing, and I find it quite relaxing. In fact, I think I shall start on a few more just in case you want them. You can hardly object to some new gowns, regardless. I think a very dark blue would be an appropriate color.

Lark and Rosethorn send their love, of course, as do we all. Study hard and come home to us as soon as you possibly can.

Your sister,
Sandry

 

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24 Seed Moon, 1044 K.F.

Dear all,

I told you that Master Starglass was insufferable, and I was right. He says the most ignorant, infuriating things about magic, and everyone just sits there and nods and writes down his every word like it’s remarkable! Spells are the backbone of academic magic, I will grant him that, but he acts like they are the entire skeleton! And he’s so condescending and dismissive of other forms of magic, it’s just infuriating.

Today, for example, he was talking about ways to create fire. There is one particular spell that some Great Mage made up centuries ago, that is particularly popular around Lightsbridge. I have nothing against the spell - or I didn’t until Master Starglass started waxing poetic about its virtues.

“There is no faster, more reliable way to create fire than the spell passed down from Okius the Firetamer,” he told us.

“That’s not always true,” I said, before I thought about it. I’m not used to inhibiting myself during magical learning.

Master Starglass gave me a cold look. “You believe you know more about it than I do?”

“No, of course not, but what about ambient mages?”

There was a titter of laughter in the room, as if I had mentioned some make-believe creature like a fairy.

Master Starglass held his hand up. “Hold your laughter. Ambient mages are real. They are exceedingly rare, of course, but they do exist. What is your point about ambient mages, Ms….” he looked at me expectantly.

“Chester,” I said, thinking carefully before I continued. “And all I meant was that, surely a smith mage could call fire more quickly and reliably than even this spell.”

Master Starglass shook his head coldly. “Ambient magic is weak and imprecise. It’s slow, inaccurate, and impossible to replicate. By every standardized measure of magic, ambient magic falls short of the standards to which we hold magical works.”

I gaped at him. I have heard such things before, of course, but this is a full mage credentialed in teaching and spells. His attitudes are shaping a generation of mages’ beliefs about magical practice.

“Who here has ever seen an ambient mage at work?” Given the scorn with which he spoke, I wasn’t surprised that only a few students raised their hands. “Have you, Ms. Chester?”

“Um, a little…” I said, unprepared for the direct question.

“Let us gain the perspective of someone that has more than ‘a little’ experience. Who has seen an ambient mage work up close?”

“We had a stone mage back home with ambient magic,” a young man at the back of the class offered. I have not learned anyone’s names, and certainly don’t intend to do so. “Not my town but the next one over. Our town hired her one summer to strengthen the town wall. Took her the better part of a month to go over the whole thing, stone by stone, where an academic mage - had we had one - might have done it with a single spell.”

I had about a hundred objections to this argument. Maybe the woman had done something an academic mage couldn’t do, or maybe she was responding to something the stones needed others couldn’t see. Or maybe she wasn’t a particularly powerful ambient mage, it happens.

Master Starglass appeared to agree with the annoying student. “An excellent example. An academic mage who knows the right spell could easily fortify a town wall in a few moments.”

“And they probably wouldn’t end up covered in a layer of dust, either,” my obnoxious classmate offered with an unkind laugh. Academic mages as a whole seem unreasonably concerned about clothes and appearances. And not in a sensible way, either. Sandry would never suggest that Briar should stay out of the dirt, or Daja out of soot, or me out of the rain. She just designs clothes that lets us get along with it.

(Speaking of gowns, Sandry, your new ones are working well, as far as I can tell. I suppose I’d only know for certain that I needed them if I took one off and people started becoming suspicious of me. I’m not planning to test them out that way, if it’s all the same to you. Don’t put yourself out on my account, but I don’t mind if you’re looking for a new project. I particularly like the green one, if you do have time to make more.)

“I can imagine the layer of dust was quite impressive to those who didn’t know anything about magic,” another student drawled. “Ambient magic is always appealing to those who don’t know any better.”

I thought it looked cool,” the original student put in, in the tone of one confessing something embarrassing. “In my defense, I was only 8 years old, and there weren’t many academic mages for me to talk to in my town. I asked if she could teach me how she’d done it, but she said it wasn’t something other mages could do.”

“Ambient mages are famously incapable of sharing magical knowledge with their peers and students,” Master Starglass offered in a patronizing tone. “They appear unconcerned with the spread of magical knowledge. The value of a well-crafted spell is that it can be used by all, not just the anointed few.”

The discussion carried on in this way for a while longer, but I’m too angry to repeat it all. Suffice to say that general opinion very much supported Master Starglass’ view of ambient mages as slow, imprecise, and generally inferior. I wanted to argue back, but it seemed unwise, misdirection gown or no. So I just sat there, holding my tongue, my temper rising.

After class, I went right back to my room so I could nurse my temper in private. I don’t want to see any of those idiots from my class right now, so I think I might head to the library once I’m a bit calmer. If I am to get through the next few years of study without murdering one of my classmates in a fit of rage, I will probably have to spend the majority of my time there. It’s fine, I prefer books to people anyways.

Yours,
Tris

 

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29 Seed Moon, 1044 K.F.

Dear Tris,

You do realize that there were scorch marks on that last letter, right? Your new roommate may not be wise to you yet, but it’s not going to take her long if you keep sparking lightning whenever someone says something stupid about ambient magic. You’re going to encounter a lot of bleaters, as Briar would say, while you’re at Lightsbridge. If you want to keep your secret, you’re going to have to keep your temper. They’re just kaqs, Tris. Ignore them.

This is Sandry, jumping in to say that although I cannot approve of Daja using such language to refer to your professor, I have to agree with the sentiment. Of course those academic peacocks at Lightsbridge haven't a clue about ambient magic. I doubt many of them have ever met an ambient mage at all! After all, we're a much rarer breed, and we’re often overlooked by magic sniffers. And even though its is technically possible to study ambient magic at Lightsbridge I don’t understand why anyone would want to, given the general attitude and approach there. I honestly don’t know how Rosethorn did it.

Daja again, now that my lady Sandry is done putting in her two bits. Only now Briar wants me to tell you that Rosethorn only studied at Lightsbridge because she was sent there by her teachers at Winding Circle, she hated the academic approach, and only got through it because she spent the whole time arguing with Crane. He wants to add that perhaps if you could find an arch-rival it might make it all a bit more bearable. I feel obligated to point out that Rosthorn wasn’t trying to conceal the true nature of her power, and it doesn’t seem like an arch-rival would be the best way to go about managing your temper. Hiding in the library is one option, certainly. Personally, I would suggest meditation.

Also, some of what your professor was saying may not be wrong. Don’t scowl, hear me out. Ambient magic is less precise, in a way. Our work is far from sloppy, and your control is better than anyone I know. But there is a level of instinct and responsiveness to the specific situation that is inherent to the way we have been taught to work. To me, magic isn’t meant to be something that can be replicated. Frostpine is the only person I’ve ever met whose magic is like mine, and even he can’t do half of the things I’ve been able to do since Sandry wove our power together. But I can see where an academic mage might find that frustrating. From what you’ve written, it sounds like academic magic is all about working spells that have been fine-tuned over decades or longer. If success is developing a spell or charm that someone else can work and get the same results - well, I have to admit, none of us are very successful mages, medallions or no.

Of course, I don’t agree with that definition of magic. You should see what Briar has been doing with Duke Vedris’ gardens. There’s a rose garden behind the Duke’s Citadel that has been neglected for years, since his wife died, I think. It’s full of rows and rows of rose bushes that are all tangled and full of dead wood and haven’t put out a flower in years. Luckily, to quote Briar, “The old girls were just sleeping” and he’s been spending his time pruning and reshaping and “waking everyone up.” I know it won’t surprise you when you hear that he’s spent untold hours there, slowly coaxing each bush back into health. A number of them have started blooming out of season, just to try to please him, although you know he doesn’t encourage that kind of thing. I went by yesterday to see it, and it is beautiful, even this time of year. I can only imagine how magnificent it will look in the spring. That’s hardly a fast or replicable magic, but it is just as valuable.

Don’t let the kaqs get you down. And if you get tired of being so far away from everyone who thinks about magic the way you do - well, you know where to find us.

Fondly,
Daja

 

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3 Goose Moon, 1044 K.F.

Dear all,

I’m overwhelmed by the advice and support voiced in Daja’s last letter. Don’t pick a fight with your professor, try finding someone else to pick a fight with, and, oh yes, meditate. What a splendid idea, Daja, I don’t know what I’d do without you. Luckily, I’m managing my temper just fine without all of you to guide me. Although... I will admit that after I read Daja’s letter I decided I’d be better off making time to meditate immediately before the class, which seems to be helping a bit. At least I’m staying calm enough that nobody notices me.

Well, actually that’s not strictly true. It turns out that Analise is somewhat more observant than a girl wearing her sister’s misdirection gowns might have hoped her roommate would be. She caught up with me as we were leaving Spells and Charms yesterday. I was headed towards the library, occupied with thoughts of which book might be most helpful to assist with a difficult assignment from Introduction to Magic, when I was interrupted by a cheerful voice beside me.

“You don’t much like Master Starglass, do you?” I turned, surprised. It was Analise, offering a friendly and open smile that reminded me of Sandy. Imagingining what Sandry would have to say if she knew that I was being short-tempered with my roommate, I avoided a scowl.

“Well, he’s an idiot,” I said shortly, too irritated with the professor to hide it with pointless pleasantries. “Spouting out utter nonsense as if it were known magical fact.”

Analise didn’t seem deterred by my tone. “Such as?”

“Today’s jab about ambient mages being ‘too lazy to learn basic spellwork outside of their area’ really irritated me. Ambient magic can only work through the path chosen by the magic. It’s not like academic mages, who chose an area of specialization and then gain it through years of study. Ambient mages have a natural affinity for something specific in the world. It’s a completely different kind of power. Calling that lazy is just bigotry.”

“You certainly know a lot about ambient magic,” Analise offered, interested.

I froze. I tried to think what I could say to throw Analise off. “My...sister is an ambient mage,” I offered hurriedly. I knew as soon as I’d said it that Briar would not approve. It was the kind of lie that invited more interest and questions, rather than quieting them.

“Oh, I figured it was because you’d grown up in Summersea, near Winding Circle,” Annalise told me. “What kind of magic does your sister do?”

I blinked - I had forgotten that living near Winding Circle was part of my cover story. This is what I get for trying to be friendly, Sandry. Briar was counting on my being too prickly for anyone to talk to.

I pasted something approximating a smile on my face. “She’s a stitch witch,” I told her, thinking that it was more common and then less likely to invite questions than smith magic. She didn’t need to know the extent and nature of Sandry’s power.

“That’s fascinating!” Analise said, enthusiastically. “And I can see why you’d be defensive when people are disrespectful about ambient mages.”

“How did you know I was so angry with Master Stormglass, anyway?” I asked, concerned. I was certain I had remembered to meditate this morning, and hadn’t thought I’d developed any detectable lightning in class. I didn’t like the idea that my magic had escaped my careful control, and I really didn’t like the idea that it had done so without my notice.

Analise laughed. “You would make a terrible noble, Trina, your face gives away everything you’re thinking. Every time he says something about ambient magic you shoot him a truly terrifying glare. It doesn’t take a Great Mage to divine your feelings.”

I bit back an unexpected smile. It didn’t even occur to me to worry about my expression, I realized ruefully. I could easily imagine Briar’s exasperated expression.

“I don’t know anything about ambient magic, but I’ve always loved runes, and I hate the way Master Starglass talks about them.” Analise went on. “It always makes me want to run home and start my assignment for Master Smokewind’s class. Isn’t he marvelous?”

I let out an internal sigh of relief, and allowed the conversation to turn to the far less dangerous topic of this week’s assignment in Elementary Runes. All in all, I think I handled myself fairly well, although I know I should have thought to say that I’d seen ambient magic at Winding Circle, and not in my family. Luckily I was wearing one of Sandry’s misdirection gowns, so hopefully Analise didn’t give it any further thought.

That’s probably the most interesting thing that’s happened in the past few days. I’ve spent most of my time in the library or in my room, working on this assignment for Introduction to Magic. It feels a little like it was specifically designed to vex me. We’re supposed to levitate an object in a specific pattern, demonstrate a higher level of control over that basic sign of academic magic: moving an object without touching it. And I just can’t get the hang of it. Any of it.

I know moving an object is an incredibly easy task. There’s a simple spell and a basic ruin that both accomplish it, although I doubt any of my classmates need either one. I see them doing it all the time to call a book off a high shelf in the library or a pen which rolled out of reach - which, besides being an appalling waste of magic, is also just depressing to watch. Everyone else here can do this sort of thing without thinking about it, so why not me? I’ve learned difficult magic before - surely moving a book is easier than scrying on the wind!

I know the answer, of course: they are all academic mages, and I’m not. Sometimes, when I’ve been at it for too long, trying to move a book that remains exactly where I placed it hours earlier, I can’t help but add: and I’ll never be. I don’t want to give up so soon, but if I can’t master such a basic fundamental, it’s hard to see how I’ll ever be able to make a living as an ordinary academic mage.

Maybe I should just give it up and come home.

Yours,
Tris

 

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8 Goose Moon, 1044 K.F.

Dear Tris,

I hope you won’t mind this unsolicited letter from your old teacher. I ran into Sandry at the Citadel this morning, and she mentioned that you have been having a hard time with your first practical assignment for Introduction to Magic. I did warn you that you would find it hard to do these basic spells without relying on your ambient magic. I know you said you were up to the challenge, but I suspected at the time that you were underestimating how frustrating and difficult it would be. I know how much you hate being slower than your peers, so I imagine that right about now you are growing so irritated with them and yourself that you’re wondering if this entire endeavor is worthwhile after all. Don’t give up, Trisana. Remember that the majority of your classmates have been moving objects since early childhood, as it is by far the most common early sign of academic magic. Recall that while each of them has only to exert their power in a way that has long since become second nature, you must conceal the extent of your power, resist the call you feel to draw on the power of the natural world, and funnel your power only through yourself, all at the same time. It is not just one new spell or magical working, it is the implementation of an entirely new worldview. Even learning to scry on the winds did not ask you to dramatically alter the very foundations of your conceptualization of the practice of your magic. In short, it is far harder a task for you than it is for them. And that is as it should be, as it is unlikely that any of them are fully credentialed mages masquerading as new students. It’s only right that some of this be harder for you.

I arranged for you to attend Lightsbridge at your request. I didn’t do it because I believe you need to learn academic magic in order to support yourself, or so you won’t stand out as much. You are an extraordinary mage, Tris, and you must never think to hide that. You were not gifted with such power to become one more ordinary academic mage, peddling housework charms and luck potions to harried housewives and their worn-down husbands. Such mages are a copper crescent a dozen, and the world already has more than enough. The majority of your classmates will never be anything more. I did not arrange for you to attend Lightbridge so you could join their ranks. I sent you to Lightsbridge because learning academic magic is the next frontier in your magical education. It is the greatest challenge I can offer you, my student who is never satisfied with what she has already learned. You have always risen to such challenges and come out stronger and more powerful than ever. Learning academic magic is a task few ambient mages would think to attempt, and even fewer could succeed at. I retain the highest confidence that you are among the few who can. Don’t prove me wrong.

Sincerely yours,
Niko

 

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14 Goose Moon, 1044 K.F.

Dear all,

I’ve got it! I figured out how to move objects using only my magic, just like an academic mage is meant to! It really is a very different exercise of power than the sort I’m used to. Niko was right when he called it an “implementation of an entirely new worldview.” But now that I’ve gotten it once, I imagine that it will be easier to use my power in that way again in the future.

Speaking of Niko: thanks ever so, Sandry, for blabbing to my teacher that I was struggling. I can manage perfectly well without Niko, you know. Although I suppose his letter was somewhat helpful. I’ll forgive you this once, but don’t make a habit of it.

It wasn’t that Niko told me what to do differently, exactly. But reading his letter reminded me that academic magic has true value as a distinct magical area from ambient magic. I’ve been so frustrated with academic magic in the face of my own inability - and so defensive about the value of ambient magic in the face of Master Starglass’ scorn - and I think all of that has been getting in the way of my progress.

This morning started off no different. I was in my room, just to get a change from the library. I stood, arm outstretched, willing the volume across the table to slide the few inches into my open palm. I can only liken the sensation to the feeling that I was pushing, with all of my might, against a door that was firmly bolted shut. Exhausting, frustrating, and futile.

“This is pointless,” I growled to myself in frustration. “Academic magic is pointless.”

I could feel my anger rising so, almost without thinking, I began breathing in the pattern of meditation. My anger ebbed with the familiar sensation, and I could feel my mind clearing as well. The problem, I realized, was that I was blocking off the majority of my power in order to avoid calling on the natural world. I wasn’t achieving the kind of precision I needed to keep my power from reaching out while still using it to reach in.

I chewed on one end of my thin lightning braids, thinking deeply. For some reason, the memory popped into my head of Niko, all those years ago, asking the four of us to imagine pulling our power into something small. That was the kind of precision I needed.

Continuing the pattern breathing of meditation, I imagined drawing a protective circle within myself - not to keep my power in, but to keep the ambient magic of the natural world out. Then slowly, carefully, I fed a tiny strand of my own magic into the book I was trying to move, the way I might feed the power from a storm into one of my braids. The way I imagined funneling my power into a tiny rope of wind at Niko’s instruction all those years ago. Then I used that strand of power to nudge the book into my hand. It was similar to the kind of nudge I might give to a cyclone if I was trying to direct its path. Like a cyclone, the book was resistant to my direction, but I knew I was on the right track, and bore down with my will.

“I’ve moved glaciers” I told the book. “I can certainly move you.”

I half expected the book to voice its objection, the way a glacier or hurricane might have - but, of course, it’s just a book, and my affinity for them is not at all magical. It simply slid across the table into my waiting hand.

“It worked!” I cried. “Chime, I did it!” Chime uttered a low note of encouragement and flew over to perch on my shoulder. I lowered my barriers with relief, allowing the breezes that streamed through the window to swirl around, scolding me for keeping them out. I laughed at their vexation, giddy with success, enjoying the feeling of the fresh air on my flushed face.

I didn’t hear the door opening behind me. “Am I interrupting?” an amused voice asked.

I spun, breezes ruffling my petticoats. Analise stood at the door, quietly taking in the havoc the gleeful breezes were wreaking on my side of our shared living quarters. I hastily ushered the breezes out the window and did my very best to assume an air of innocence.

“I figured out that assignment for Introduction to Magic that’s been bothering me,” I told Analise, hoping to distract her from the obvious display of ambient magic. “I moved the book without touching it. I’ve been trying all week but I just couldn’t get it…” I trailed off at the knowing gleam in her eyes. I realized a moment too late the clear implication of my confession that I had never accomplished one of the basic signs of academic magic.

“Because you’re an ambient mage.” Analise said, calmly. “I’d been wondering.”

I glanced down, irrelevantly, and noticed that I was not, as it happened, wearing one of Sandry’s misdirections gowns. Although I had to admit that even clothing woven by Sandry might find it difficult to pull off quite so serious a misdirection as what I needed in that moment. Perhaps Briar could have managed it; I certainly couldn’t.

“Yes,” I told her, “I’m an ambient mage. I guess the breezes gave it away?”

“Pretty much. Yours is with the wind, then?”

“Weather, actually. I do storms, water, wind, lightening, earthquakes...”

“And are you as lazy and imprecise as the rest of your kind?” she asked me.

I glared at her and opened my mouth to retort, then noticed the gleam in her eye. “You’re teasing me,” I said, surprised.

“Indeed I am,” she grinned. “It’s extremely easy to do.”

I looked at her, puzzled. She knew I was an ambient mage, but didn’t seem judgemental or dismissive. I’d explained about the extent of my power, and she didn’t seem suspicious or scared. It wasn’t what I expected at all.

“The thing I don’t understand is why, if you’re an ambient mage from Summersea, you wouldn’t just study at Winding Circle? It’s the greatest center for ambient mage in this part of the world.”

I opened my mouth fully intending to provide the explanation I’d rehearsed with Briar - that I’d wanted to get a little further from home - but for some reason what I said was, “I’m already an accredited ambient mage. I came to Lightsbridge so I could learn academic magic.”

“That’s really interesting!” she replied enthusiastically, looking interested rather than skeptical.

“Doesn’t that bother you?” I demanded, propping my hands on my hips. “Knowing I’m here under false pretenses? My name isn’t even Trina, by the way, its Tris.”

“Mine isn’t really Analise,” she retorted. “I’m here under false pretenses as well.”

I gaped at her for a moment before realizing, once again belatedly, that she was messing with me. She burst into laughter.

“You should see your face,” she giggled. “It really is too easy. Haven’t you ever been teased before?”

“By my brother,” I said stiffly. “I’m used to strangers treating me with a certain level of fear and respect.”

“Well, no such luck here,” she told me, smiling mischievously. “I don’t know enough about you to either fear or respect you, I’m afraid. Why don’t you come to dinner and I’ll see if I can pry enough out of you to change my mind.”

“Dinner?” I said, skeptically.

“You came to Lightsbridge to become an academic mage, didn’t you? Why don’t you try spending some time with one and see if that helps at all. I promise I don’t bite.”

I might,” I told her tartly, and she giggled again.

So there you have it. My first successful attempt at academic magic and my first successful attempt at (maybe) making an academic friend. Not bad for one day.

I suppose it’s possible that I may like it here after all.

Yours,
Tris