Niva is fourteen years old when she first makes the orchids on the living room table grow.
She doesn’t have any magic – she’s never had any magic – so the first thought that comes is, I’m in trouble , and she reaches out to destroy the new growth. Except it hurts to even think of breaking a bit off the flowers, and her father would kill her if he found out.
She ends up hiding them behind a side table. No one notices.
She can’t hide her newfound powers forever. Not when her little window-planter overflows with pansies overnight, not when the dining table centerpiece leans towards her during a stressful family dinner.
Her father, always cold and critical, is quick to involve her in the family business. Niva is pulled out of school and assigned long, grueling hours at the greenhouses, spurring orchids and roses to grow before their time. Nominally she is home-schooled, but she is always tired, and her lessons are squeezed in on car rides.
To her tutors, Niva is an indifferent student. She gets her GED, and they disappear, leaving her to apply what little leisure time she has to other matters.
Niva is seventeen when Greenhow Greenhouses is shut down. It's the result of years of secrecy and covert information-passing, nerve racking years during which she took advantage of the way her family saw her. A stupid girl, good for nothing but increasing their profits, would never be a threat. Would never sell out her own family.
Her father gets ten years. Her brothers get less. In exchange for her part in putting them away, Niva gets a new identity and enough money to send herself to college.
She calls herself Rosethorn as a reminder: anyone who thinks they can underestimate her had better look out. Maybe it's a bit heavy handed, but who's to know? Niva Greenhow and her life are gone. Her family will never hurt her again. They'll never even find her.
Still, she's learned her lesson. No one can learn about her magic.
Rosethorn is twenty five when a gawky-looking nerd barges into her lab and squints at her like a man in a sandstorm.
Rosethorn has no time for idiots. “These experiments are sensitive,” she barks at him after a minute of being squinted at.
“I read your paper about coordination of leaf development via genetic regulation,” he says. “And I read Crane’s paper on the exact same experiment.”
“Good for you.”
“You got entirely different results.”
Rosethorn snorts derisively. “Because Crane is incompetent.”
“Because you have magic,” he says, and Rosethorn nearly knocks over an entire row of hybrid tomato plants.
He rushes forward to help her, but she waves him off. No one touches Rosethorn’s tomatoes but her. “I do not have magic,” she says, once all the tomatoes are safe and she’s relatively calm. Relatively being the key word. She's still struggling to keep the tomato plants in check. They want to protect her from the stranger who's scaring her, and she's of half a mind to let them.
“Yes you do,” he says. Rosethorn bites back on the instinctive ‘do not’. That’s what she gets for working so much with Crane. “You’re a textbook case of the ambientium magos , including the incognizance of your abilities due to lack of awareness or outright denial in the magical community and general populace of ambient magic, the inadvertent influence on your surroundings and presumably the late development and appearance of your abilities-”
“Shut up,” Rosethorn says.
He shuts up.
“Okay. First of all, I am not and have never been a late developer, so you just keep that in mind. Second, I don’t have magic.” She turns her back on him, even though it means turning away from the tomatoes.
“I can see magic, so there’s really no use denying it. I know the revelation that you have powers might come as a shock, but it is true. You see, ambient magic, or as I prefer to call it, ambientis magicae, because it’s an existing phenomenon despite what my professor says-”
“Go away,” Rosethorn says, scowling furiously at her research notes.
“Oh,” comes from behind her, in quite a different tone. “Not incognizance after all.”
Rosethorn sighs, ready to eviscerate this annoying boy with her lab tools if she must, and turns around to find said annoying boy wrapped in clinging tomato vines.
He blinks at her.
“Fine,” Rosethorn says grumpily. “I’ll listen to your stupid spiel. But not now, I’m busy. You can meet me at Gorse’s at six.”
“I will endeavor to be there on time,” he says, watching curiously as Rosethorn coaxes the tomatoes away from him.
“You better learn to speak like a human being until then, because I am not sitting through a goddamn lecture over dinner,” Rosethorn tells him. “Also, tell me your name. You didn’t even introduce yourself when you came in.”
“Niko Goldeye,” he says. "But my friends call me Niko."
"I'm not your friend," Rosethorn grumbles.
Rosethorn is twenty seven when she gets her Doctorate in Plant Breeding and Genetics, summa cum laude, because she’s a genius. Niko is in the audience, clapping politely and beaming at her. Crane stands beside her, happy enough to give her a high five when they call her name.
The graduation ceremony is in the afternoon, but they go out for drinks anyway, the three of them. Niko pays for their drinks, pretending reluctance but full of congratulations, especially after a glass of wine. Rosethorn, still riding high on success, flirts with Crane by way of kicking him under the table and teasing him mercilessly. It works like it always does.
This time, it only takes a few days before they're snapping at each other, restless and annoyed when they're not in bed. Crane kicks her out of his apartment, and Rosethorn goes home and pokes at her window boxes until Niko calls to rant about funding at her. Rosethorn half-listens, comforted by the routine of it. It's sort of good to know that life hasn't changed just because she has a PhD.
She doesn't hear from Niko for two weeks after that. It’s not rare for him to disappear, but he usually texts her at least once, if only to rant. It's worrying, but his department head assures her Niko's alive, so she puts it aside.
She comes out of a job interview to a barrage of excited, unintelligible texts, and calls rather than text him back.
“I’ve found another one,” Niko blurts before she can get a word out.
“Another what?” Rosethorn asks. Being friends with Niko has taught her some patience. Some.
“An ambient mage, of course. I told her about you, and she wants to talk to you.”
“Yeah, okay.” Rosethorn is by now an integral part of the ambient mage welcome wagon. She balances out Niko’s academic mumbo-jumbo, and often has to reassure any newly discovered mage that they don’t have to abandon their lives to let Niko conduct experiments on them.
“Excellent! Can you meet us at 8 Mire Lane?”
“Right now?” Rosethorn pinches the bridge of her nose. “Niko, where are you? Which city are you in?”
“Why, the same city you are in, of course. Unless you’ve left Summersea?”
Rosethorn slides into a booth of the dingy café Niko’s waiting in, across from his latest discovery. “Nice to meet you,” she tells the woman on the opposite bench, ignoring Niko. “I’m Rosethorn. I swear that my friend will not kidnap you or perform creepy Frankenstein experiments on you.”
The woman smiles. “That’s good to hear,” she says. “I’m Lark.”
“Cool name,” Rosethorn says.
“Not as cool as yours.”
They order, and Rosethorn uses the time to inspect Lark. She’s thin, with dark circles under her eyes and a rasp to her voice that speaks of a bad cough. She’s also very pretty, with a crop of dark curls and warm brown eyes.
If Crane were here, he’d tell her to stop checking Lark out. As it is, Niko’s not much of a noticer.
Lark catches her eye and winks.
To her own chagrin, Rosethorn blushes. “Where did Niko find you?” she blurts.
“In the hospital,” Lark says, matter of fact. “I got pneumonia and fainted at work.”
“And you woke up in the hospital with this idiot looming over you?” Rosethorn elbows Niko, who looks put out.
“I did not loom,” Niko says. “I merely waited for her when she was released.”
“That’s even worse! I can’t believe you came here with him,” Rosethorn tells Lark.
Lark shrugs. “He was very convincing. And my nurse vouched for him not being a serial killer.”
“Still,” Rosethorn says. "I almost strangled him when he came to me."
"That's because you're a paranoid ogre," Niko mutters.
Lark laughs. It makes her cough almost immediately, but it's a beautiful sound, and Rosethorn thinks that she would like to hear it again.
“So," she asks, leaning towards Lark. "What’s your superpower?”