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When At Lightsbridge

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[1.a]

Lightsbridge is a big campus university sitting next to what is essentially a university town. The tall walls that separate the two gives Tris pause—though Niko has warned her, she hadn’t expected them to be so tall, nor so well garrisoned: Lightsbridge guards control the walls, with their turrets and archer slits facing out onto the town.

As Tris makes her way into the town on the back of wagon, the townsfolk barely give her a look. Yet, when she steps off and starts heading for the Lightsbridge gates, she starts to catch mutterings.

“A new student,” one of them says.

“Here we go again,” says another.

“Oi, where did you put my club, again?”

A Lightsbridge guard stops her at the gate and asks for her papers. She hands over her acceptance letter. The guard hands back the letter with barely a glance and waves Tris through.

Behind the walls, Lightsbridge is filled with flat plains of absurdly green grass, and numerous signs prohibiting students from walking across it.

Tris finds the student administration centre easily enough, and one of the staff takes her to her private room. She forces herself to unpack first, before she unleashes herself onto Lightsbridge’s many libraries.


[1.b]

Getting accustomed to her new identity and schedule occupies Tris’s time during the initial months of settling into Lightsbridge. For a long while, her tongue feels clumsy and heavy whenever she has to introduce herself as “Anatris Lerchand”. The name never sits quite right, and the sensation that she is lying never quite goes away.

Tris dresses well enough that she doesn’t stand out like rich nobility nor the poor scholarship students. She is just a nondescript to-be-academic-mage from a nondescript background.

More than her name though, her biggest change is her hair. Her magic, given its ambient nature, has to be kept strictly under wraps aside from brief opportune moments when she exercises it away from the view of others. Her hair has been her mage kit for so long, and short of cutting it all off, it would have been impossible to drain all the magic out of it. And she couldn’t imagine living without it. So instead, all the braids are twisted tightly on her head while a Sandry-made wig cap keeps it all in place both physically and magically. And on top of all of that, Tris a wig of short copper-brown curls. All in all, it was heavy and warm and awkward.

This secrecy in part keeps Tris from making any close friends. But she honestly doesn’t care for any of the polite surface interactions she had with the others. After Namorn, she has had quite enough of politics.

She isn’t here to party. She isn’t here to make friends. She is here to learn, and so she does, keeping her head in the books.


[1.c]

The first altercation between the university students and the townfolk passes Tris by; it happens sometime late in the night, when Tris is firmly in bed with a book in hand. Both sides acquire injuries though no one dies this time. It annoys Tris—she is unable to enter the town for a good few days while the townsfolk settle down into a grumble.

The second altercation catches Tris while she’s out shopping in the town. It’s still broad daylight and much too early for anyone to be drinking responsibly. Yet, upon a whisper of a wind, she hears the sound of shouting, she sees hands pushing bodies and punches being thrown. She quickly finishes her purchase of stationery.

In a snap decision, she decides to head to the where the fight is breaking out. After all, if she can stop it, then she won’t have to wait out again like last time.

The fight is outside the one of the pubs frequented by students. Dressed-up university kids are casting spells whilst the some drab townfolk wield sticks and stones. Both sides are shouting, and Tris decides that they all just need to cool off, post-haste.

She tucks herself into a hidden alcove and catches a couple of breezes. She drags the warmth out of them, tucking the energy away, and winds the breezes together. Hair and clothes start to flap. Tris wiggles her fingers, and the wind obeys, wiggling the combatants apart from each other. Perhaps the wind is a little too eager, as it knocks a few people down and throws robes over heads.

Nonetheless, Tris chuckles to herself.

The Lightsbridge students, a few of them mortally humiliated, back off, and at the sound of hoofbeats of the guard, the townsfolk also step away.

Tris releases the wind and heads back to Lightsbridge.


[1.d]

Despite her plans to keep her head down and in the books, Tris finds herself interfering with a handful more fights. Perhaps she is becoming too much like Rosethorn, but nonetheless Tris delights in causing those tiny little humiliations and embarrassment when either the townsfolk or the Lightsbridge students start fighting.

When she overhears someone mentioning how no one has died so far, Tris keeps her smile to herself.

None of this goes into her letters to Niko or her siblings, of course. To them, she complains about inept lecturers and inaccurate lectures; she tells them about what she’s learning in her own time.

The first year is only foundational courses, and Tris does suitably average in the examinations. At the end of the year, she stays just long enough to cause a summer rain to fall upon some drunken celebrating—or commiserating—students who are gearing for a fight, a look that Tris is now quite adept in identifying.

Then, it’s back to Summersea for the summer break.


[2.a]

The courses of the second year are more specialised; and the class sizes shrink. Tris slips back into routine easily, between studying, and keeping an eye on the students.

There’s a rumour going around: apparently the town is cursed to students.

Tris scoffs and goes there on the regular regardless to pick up more paper and writing implements. The local stationers know her quite well by now, and on a particularly nice day, one of them strikes up conversation.

“You’re quite studious,” Kina says, nodding at the pile of notebooks Tris has. “Not like them.”

“I like learning,” Tris admits easily.

“Good thing you came this year,” Kina continues. “With the curse stopping fights, it’s been a lot easier keep well-stocked stores.”

Inwardly, Tris is smirking, her amusement peaking when she realises she is the so-called curse. “I’m glad,” Tris demures.

Kina rings up her purchase and slips in an extra notebook with a wink. Happy, Tris does her usual round before heading back to Lightsbridge.


[2.b]

Tris has put in effort to avoid drawing ire from the lecturers. She makes sure to put in mistakes in her examination—stupid mistakes, not even putting in the true answer that’d deviate from the ‘correct’ answer.

Yet, in this second year, she draws the ire of the History of Magic lecturer, who accuses her of citing obscure books; and the Magic Theory lecturer accuses her of having ideas that are too outlandish. Meanwhile, the Mathematical Magic lecturer sharply questions her as to whether she cheated.

Tris rolls her eyes, but in the spirit of keeping her head down, she adjusts her assignments down to their level. Instead, she sends the proper essays and reports to Niko, who suggests that she publish them as academic papers.

She retorts, via letter, that she cannot be yet bothered to jump through the bureaucracy and paperwork that’ll go with publishing as an unnamed author.

Niko just hints ominously about the future and moves on.


[2.c]

Towards the end of the year, the Experimental Magic laboratory supervisor pulls Tris aside at the end of a practice session.

“Ms. Lerchand,” she says.

“Mage Fluidforger,” Tris greets, on edge.

“Be at ease,” Fluidforger says with an easy smile. “Third years have the option of take a project in replacement for a course. It’s recommended for anyone considering further studies.”

Tris nods silently. She hasn’t truly considered further studies—she’s here to obtain her academic magic accreditation, not to lose herself in an ivory tower.

“I’ve seen your work in class. You have a creativity that would apply very well to a project in Experimental Magic.”

“Do have you particular projects in mind?” Tris decides to inquire.

Fluidforger’s smile widens. “I do,” and subsequently produces a set of papers. “Any that you wish—and you can even propose your own.”

“Thank you.” Tris glances at the projects and they don’t look half bad.

“Regardless, a creative mage like you could do great things, Ms. Lerchand,” Fluidforger says. “There’s always the capacity for creating new spells.”

Tris winces a little at ‘great things’, but nods. Fluidforger knows nothing of that. “I’ll look at them and return to you soon.”

Fluidforger smiles again. “There’s no hurry. I’ll see you next week.”

Needless to say, Tris eventually accepts.


[2.d]

As the summer approaches, humid heat brings in irritability amongst everyone else, while Tris discreetly keeps herself cool. It’s during one of Tris’ exams that something apparently happens: she emerges from the exam hall to the sharp smell of burning, and there are columns of smoke coming from the town.

She quickly heads to her room, and after changing out of the ridiculous robes that all students must wear during examinations, Tris trots down to the town.

There are already townsfolk attempting to put out the fires, and a handful of Lightsbridge mages who are helping them. All the while, there are still townsfolk and Lightsbridge students fighting.

Instead of coldness, Tris directs the heat of the flames to those still fighting; it has the added benefit of cooling the flames and allowing the meagre water being thrown by the townsfolk, and the handful of fire-extinguishing spells by the Lightsbridge mages to take hold where they are cast.

But even as the quick flash of hot heat that causes those fighting to stop as they fear that they have a sudden fever, the flames continue to spread. Tris starts to poke at her wig, wanting to pull out some magic from her braids, when she realises that she’s been learning academic magic for a reason.

And amongst all the bustle, no one is going to mind that she’s casting without a license.

With that, she boldly steps forward and casts fire-extinguishing spells herself. When her academic magic stores begin to weaken, and suddenly inspired, she draws the ambient heat from the flames and twists them into something resembling academic magic, enough that she can use them to power her fire-extinguishing spells. The irony of the energy of the flames being used to take themselves out is not lost on Tris.

Eventually, all the flames are taken out. Some townfolk and mages remain alert, in case hidden flames break out, but there won’t be anything big. Tris, mentally patting herself, heads back to her room to study for her next exams.

After such a big event and a strict talking down by the heads of Lightsbridge, the violence dampens down and Tris has an uneventful last few weeks before she heads off for the summer.


[3.a]

Fluidforger is a relatively young academic, hence her post as the laboratory supervisor rather than lecturer. It means that she’s all the more open to Tris’s ‘outlandish’ ideas; she thrives in them, really, and Tris finds herself enjoying working on her third year project with her.

They’re working on a minor modification to a temperature regulation charm (Tris likes the tie-in with her weather magics), such that it can be imbued into a cheaper material and thus bring the price down for sale.

Meanwhile, Tris’s other courses go fine enough, with a mixture of applied courses for common spells, theoretical and study courses to keep Tris learning, and a compulsory course about regulations and laws meant to prepare them for practicing magic in the future outside the safety of Lightsbridge.

All the practical spells are practical to learn, but in her own time, she discovers the interesting rabbit-hole that is merging academic spells with ambient magic.


[3.b]

During the year, Niko and Crane visit Lightsbridge, and the academics are in a flutter. Niko and Crane each give a public lecture, and Tris slips into one of the back seats, struggling to keep a straight face. The way they lecture are like the men themselves: Niko, often cryptic, often dramatic, and always finicky with fine details; and Crane, right to the point, sharp and exact, and rather dry.

In-between Niko’s and Crane’s schedules and Tris’s own, they find time to meet up secretly, and after she informs them of her opinions on their lectures (which Niko takes with a chuckle and Crane with an unamused raised eyebrow), she tells them of her ambient/academic private projects.

Niko smooths out his robes as he thinks. “If only academic mages were more willing to work with ambient ones. And vice-versa,” he muses, slating Crane with a smirk.

Crane bristles. “They think they could just keep applying their spells to no end,” he snaps.

Niko chuckles. “Well, Trisana, you could be the one who mediates between the two fields,” he says.

Tris shakes her head. “I just want a good and proper job. I hear from Fluidforger—I rather not be chasing grants all day.”

“No, join my team,” Crane says, leaning forward. “I can offer you a steady pay if you become my research assistant, either as Trisana or Anatris.”

Tris shakes her head. “No.” On the sly, she adds, “If anything, I would rather work with Rosethorn.”

Immediately, Crane’s hackles rise and he diverts the conversation to his latest gripes with her.

Crane stays at the university for only a short time, while Niko stays longer to give some lectures to various advanced courses. So Tris meets with Niko quite often.

Often enough that she is almost caught, once, when she stays talking with Niko for longer than either realises. One of her lecturers appears at Niko’s office door, and she has to quickly escape via the window before they start poking at why she, a nondescript student, would be in the company of Great Mage Niklaren Goldeye.

At the end of his visit, Niko leaves with regret.

“It’s been lovely to see you, Trisana,” he says. “You have the mind for research. But, you also have the mind for a great many other things. I wish you all the best, and I shall see you again soon.”

Tris nods, saying, “Not if I see you first.”

Niko grins. “Oh yes, which of our sight magics will reign supreme?”

They smile at each other, and then Niko has go.


[3.c]

Tris very badly wants to shoot lightning at the Lightsbridge student who starts heckling at her favourite stationery store. He looks about to throw a punch at one of the staff; and he has already knocked over a couple of book piles.

Instead, Tris shoots a little spell at him; usually, it’s used for constipation. But on those without it...the student suddenly pales, his muscles tensing. He curses and hurries out, no doubt looking for a latrine.

Tris then moves over to help pick up the fallen items, but she’s stopped by Kina.

“No, no, you’re a customer,” Kina says. Lowering her voice, she says meaningfully, “I saw. Thank you.”

“I did nothing,” Tris says, continuing to help nonetheless.

Kina scoffs. “Are we talking about right now, or all those other times?”

“I’m not known as a kind person,” Tris points out.

Kina’s voice drops further. “Last year, when the fires broke out. I saw.”

Tris shuts up.

“It’s been a lot more peaceful since you came here,” Kina says. “We’ll miss it, once you leave.”

“I’m sorry,” Tris says. She really doesn’t want to stay here.

Kina shrugs. “It is what it is.”

There’s nothing Tris can do, really, and she leaves the shop with disquiet. She questions Niko about it in her next letter, and in reply, Niko tells her that the frequency of fighting has decreased over the years, and if she just leaves it, the trend will continue regardless.

But this doesn’t stop Tris thinking about it. If only there is a curse upon the town that’ll prevent fights between the two groups.

Curses, as it turns out, appears as the next topic in one of her courses, and then suddenly she’s spending all her free time on developing some mild deterrent that she could cast on the town, at the areas where students frequent. She already knows how to extract ambient energy to continue to power the spell for years to come; and she already knows what kind of safe albeit humiliating deterrents to cast. The difficulty is the trigger—to stop fights between drunken students and everyone else and carefully selected cases.

Of course, she’s Trisana Chandler and she has access to Lightsbridge’s libraries. She weaves the new spell and illicitly casts it on a small area to test it out, and so far, the results are promising.


[3.d]

The end of the three years comes faster that Tris expects. She studies for her exams; she sits her exams; and she writes up detailed thesis for her project with Flightforger and gives a short presentation about her modified spell to a panel of academics.

“Are you sure you don’t want to continue research?” Flightforger asks. “It’s not just for the idle nobility.”

Tris shakes her head. “I have a home I want to return to. I’ll continue tinkering, but academia is not for me.”

Fluidforger is disappointed, but she rallies a smile nonetheless. “Then, keep in touch. Where is your home?”

After a beat, Tris says, “Summersea. My siblings live there.”

Fluidforger’s look becomes speculative. “There are a lot of great mages there,” she muses. “Academic and ambient.”

Tris nods. “Thank you for supervising me this year.”

“Your project was great,” Fluidforger says easily.

Before Tris leaves, Fluidforger passes her a sheet.

“You accidentally left this with your report papers,” she says.

Tris stares at it. It’s one of her notes about mixing ambient and academic magic.

Fluidforger winks and lets Tris go.

Tris leaves with the distinct feeling that Fluidforger knows something, but she doesn’t know what exactly. Niko’s words come to mind, and Tris wonders idly whether she and Fluidforger could work together in the future.


[3.e]

After sitting through an obnoxiously long ceremony, Tris receives her academic mage accreditation papers. And that evening, she goes and casts her deterrent spell properly over a large swath of the town. Finally, she heads to the stationery store to give Kina some copies of the temperature regulating spells.

“You didn’t have to,” Kina says.

“It’s the least that I can do,” Tris says, and it really is. “And books should be keep at proper humidity.”

At that, Kina smiles. “They do.”

And then, Tris is finally heading home.

She arrives at Number Six Cheeseman Street feeling quite satisfied with herself. Everyone she personally knows has doubts about her attending Lightsbridge. But bar a few exceptions, her three years at Lightsbridge have been the three most calming, least stressful years of her life. She set out to be a normal hedgewitch, and she has succeeded.

Watch your head doesn’t blow up, Coppercurls, comes Briar’s sharp comment.

I stand by my statement that you won’t be satisfied with just being a hedgewitch, Daja says, evenly. Even now, you already dabble in things no one has ever done before.

Oh Tris, you can do whatever makes you happy. Congratulations! Sandry says. Now hurry in, lunch is about to start!

Tris snorts at their comments, but she heeds Sandry’s words. She puts aside her plans for the future, and her face pulls a smile as she steps into the kitchen and sees them.


[The End]