Er, yeah. Hello again. *sigh* Yes, I know I have no excuse. Enjoy the update, either way :P

"Silence," Emberglow snapped. "Come. You'll be meditating, and I wish to join you."

Steph sat on her cot, frozen in shock. Eyes wide and mouth slightly open, her bruised skin stretched over knuckles tightly clenched around her wooden flute. Around her, Sandry sat on her chair with the same expression on her face as Steph. Briar tensed where he sat on the foot of her cot, and Kaye and Rose glanced up at their father, surprised.

"Didn't you hear me, girl? Meditation, now!" Lunging forwards, Emberglow grabbed one of Steph's arms and wrenched her off her cot. Crying out in pain, she stumbled to her feet before her knees buckled under her.

Sandry leapt to her feet at the same time as Briar; Kaye tumbled off her lap. Reaching out, Sandry grabbed Steph's arm in time to stop her from falling to the floor, and slung it over her shoulders, supporting most of Steph's weight.

"What do you think you're doing?" Tris demanded, glaring at Emberglow. Her fists were propped on her hips, her mouth set in a tight line. "Look at that girl in front of you. She almost died the other night, and you expect her to jump at your every whim right at this moment?" The redhead gestured at Steph. "She can't even stand, yet you expect her – a beginner, mind – to meditate?"

"Yes," Emberglow snapped. "She's my daughter, and she'll do as I request."

"She may be your daughter, but she's our student," growled Briar. "Our request counts for just as much as yours."

Briar and Emberglow glared at each other for a moment before Rose interrupted in her quiet, calm voice. "Why don't you let her decide?"

Briar looked thoughtful. Turning to Steph, he opened his mouth to speak before Emberglow cut across him. "Let her choose?" he asked, incredulous. "She's fourteen! She knows not what's good for her."

"Just because she's fourteen doesn't mean that she's a bleater!" Briar stood to lessen the difference between their heights. "If my sisters and I can get our credentials by that age – which I'm sure you already knew – then surely Steph can decide whether or not she wants to meditate."

Emberglow had nothing to say to that. Instead he whirled to face his eldest daughter, staring at her in tight-lipped silence. Rose spoke for him. "Well, how about it?"

Steph glanced guiltily at her teachers before meeting Emberglow's hard gaze. "I want to meditate," she said quietly before her eyes slid down again to rest on her lap. "I did want to before," she pointed out, guilt colouring her tone. "You wouldn't let me. My father will." Tugging on one of her long curls, Steph asked of the young mages, "I'll be fine, won't I?"

Tris sniffed, turned on her heel and left the room. Briar watched her leave then grinned at Steph. "Don't worry about Coppercurls. She just doesn't like not getting her way." Seeing that Steph still looked upset, he added, "She isn't mad at you. She's going up to make the protection circle."

Steph nodded, settling her gaze on her feet: bare and relatively clean of bruises compared to the rest of her skin. Sandry smiled at her. "Look on the bright side," she coaxed. "You'll get to play some music. You haven't done that in a few days."

Slightly cheered up, Steph raised her chin and smiled back at Sandry. "I suppose you're right. I miss music."

Sandry turned to look at her foster-brother as he slung Steph's free arm over his shoulders. "Should I fetch Daja?" she inquired.

Briar shrugged. "Ask if she wants to come. With Emberglow joining us, she might not want to miss the excitement," he suggested, grinning wickedly. Ignoring the face Sandry made at him, he teased Steph, "Come, old lady. Let's hobble on up to the roof."

oOo

Spreading her skirts around crossed legs, Steph looked sheepishly around at the people she sat in a circle with. She met Briar's grin, Daja's and Sandry's encouraging smiles and Rose's worried frown. Kaye also smiled at her; Tris looked annoyed but resigned. Emberglow's face showed no emotion, and Emilie was nowhere to be seen.

Fiddling with the flute in her hand, Steph looked at her lap nervously. "So… uh…"

"Go ahead," Sandry advised. "We'll count and mediate with you. It's alright."

Closing her eyes, Sandry and her foster-family fell into meditation. Glancing around once more, Steph shut her eyes and slipped into the familiar breathing pattern, clearing her mind of thoughts and concerns. Turned inward, Steph was able to see the bright pool of magic inside of herself. Sneaking a glance at her young teachers, she noticed that their magics looked smaller and tighter than hers, but burned far more intensely and betrayed none of the leaks that so constantly fought her grip.

"That's right," Daja murmured, as if she knew that Steph had been comparing the state of their magics. "Pull it in nice and tight, into the object you've imagined…"

An indignant sniff cut through Steph's concentration, causing her hold on her power to waver slightly. "Pull what in tight?" Emberglow demanded. "I hope you don't mean magic. It shouldn't be forced into an object."

Ignoring Emberglow, Briar countered, "Don't worry Steph; keep doing what you've been doing. You're making great progress."

"Magic should flourish and grow inside of you," Emberglow continued. "Not forced into an imaginary object. Are you Winding Circle mages so far south that the heat has made you addled?"

Resisting the urge to reply that Emelanese heat was nothing compared to that in the countries that lay beyond the Pebbled Sea, Steph followed the examples of her teachers by ignoring her father and proceeding to fold and prod her magic into the flute shape she had chosen weeks before.

"Stephanie, are you going to listen to your father or a couple of teenagers who think they know far more than they do? These Circle methods of learning will get you nowhere."

Patience wearing thin, Steph opened one eye to glare at her father. "If you need to ask that, you mustn't know me all that well."

Emberglow leaned forwards, matching Steph's scowl. "You'd better not be showing me disrespect, or I'll –"

"Or you'll what?" Tris's angry voice interrupted Emberglow's threat.

Emberglow stopped silent, apparently thinking hard, before forcing a very hard, very cold smile. "Alright, a suggestion then. She seems to be… adept at meditation now. Perhaps a demonstration of her abilities?"

Briar nodded at Steph. "What do you think? Are you ready?"

"You must be confident this time that your power is under control, even though we have a barrier," Sandry added. "Remember, there are people inside the barrier."

Steph ran nervous fingers over the body of her flute, glancing up at your teachers. "What do you think? I trust your judgement. If you say I'm ready, then I'm ready."

Briar sighed blissfully. "I hope all students are this easygoing."

Daja leaned over and smacked his knee. "Concentrate, Briar. This is no laughing matter." Briar just winked at his sister in response.

"Well, I think she's ready," Tris supplied. "Give it a shot, Steph."

Steph nodded. "Alright. What do you want me to do?"

"This lesson is a more instinctual one," Sandry instructed. "Play what comes to mind. Let your magic build up inside, and release it steadily through your music."

If Steph noticed Tris raising her eyebrows at Sandry who shrugged in return, she did not show it. Instead, she gathered enough strength to lift her flute to her lips.

Steph paused. Let the magic build up inside? The instruction seemed vague, but she was in no position to question her teachers and obeyed their instruction. To her surprise, Steph felt a feeling well up inside her, yearning to be let free through the high, sweet melody of Steph's flute. Sure of what to do now, Steph touched her lips to her flute again and released her magic as she blew down into the small pipe.

It was a soft tune which seemed to fill the enclosed area on top of the roof with a pale light. Beginning to get the hang of it, Steph widened the stream of magic she was releasing, still keeping it under control.

"Pah! What is this nonsense?"

The flute's tune cut off with an unpleasant, squeaky whistle and the soft light instantly dissipated. Disheartened by her father's disapproval, Steph frowned. "What?"

"Whistling a tune and making light? That's useless! You can't win battles with that! You need to know how to take the offensive! Magic is your tool, and you must treat it as such."

"Hold on now, sir," ordered Briar. "Magic is not a tool. It's a living, changing thing, that –"

"Magic is not alive! It is something that superior humans have the ability to use to their will. I won't have any of this wishy-washy Circle nonsense –"

"Enough."

Startled, the small company glanced at Sandry.

A smirk on his golden-brown face, Briar nudged Steph lightly and whispered, "Look, he's gone and made the Duchess go on her nobleness. This is a real treat to see when she's not using it on us."

Ignoring her brother, Sandry propped her fists on her hips. "Now, Jacob Emberglow, I've been patient with you for this entire meditation session but you've taken this too far. I'll not have you speak ill of the Circle temples, which have produced some of the finest mages in history. Your daughter has been given the choice between learning her magic in the flexible way that ambient magic demands, and learning it in a dull and structured manner that works so well for academic mages. She has chosen who she will listen to, and I'd appreciate it if you'd respect her decision and please stay silent."

Dumbfounded, Steph stared at the young noble. "Yep, a thing to behold, isn't it?" Briar cackled. "She makes telling a man to stick is neb somewhere else sound like a polite request."

Sandry's cornflower blue eyes turned soft again as she turned on Steph. "Continue, please. You were doing fantastically."

With a hesitant smile, Steph tried to regain that feeling of magic building up inside. However, her father had regained his voice and was muttering under his breath.

Steph began to play, but this time the tune was different. It was sharper; more staccato, and more dynamic. As her father's murmured insults grew loud enough to reach Steph's ears, the tune grew louder and sharper. Steph noticed that her father had suddenly stopped talking, but her anger and hurt fuelled her magic until the steady trickle of magic grew wider and wider until there was too much of a flood to control, yet on she played.

A sharp scream cut through Steph's concentration like a knife and she immediately dropped her flute as though it had burned. Kaye had screamed; glancing around the rooftop, Steph discovered why.

It seemed as though Emberglow had dashed across the rooftop and attempted to hurl himself off the lip of the roof. Briar and Daja had leapt up to grab him in time to save him from a multi-storey fall that would surely have killed him.

Scared out of her wits, Steph dropped to her knees, ignoring the pain from her still-healing bruises. She stared down at her flute, her eyes clouding over with tears. Picking it up in a shaking hand, she looked up at her teachers. Knowing the answer already, she asked, "Was that…did I do that?"

Tris nodded gravely. "It's not unusual. Your mood affects your magic, no matter how hard you try to control it. If this becomes a regular occurrence, then you'll need to learn how to control your temper as well as your magic."

The tears spilled over. "No, you won't need to teach me to control my magic. You don't need to teach me anything anymore. I don't want to learn magic!" Getting to her feet, Steph attempted to run back to the infirmary. She made it halfway down the stairs, out of sight of the others, before the weakness of her healing body and her most recent magical working struck her. She stumbled on the stairs and sat down hard, crying.

Briar glanced at his sisters. Without exchanging a word, he released his grip on the stark white, cursing Emberglow and followed Steph's path down the stairs to help her back to the infirmary.

Hearing Steph attempt to make her way back down into the house, Emilie faded away from the staircase, silently making her way back to her own quarters.

What she had seen on the rooftop interested her greatly. As rare as it was for Emilie to spend her time thinking of others, Steph was an exception. Mentally, Emilie flicked through the mages she knew who had a gift with music and sound. She knew she had a cousin with the gift for music who had taken his vows at a temple in Capchen, as well as a friend of the family who was paid to perform for the empress in Namorn. However, magic with music was not as common as magic with other crafts such as pottery or cooking. Emilie had limited choices.

If she remembered correctly, her second cousin's daughter had a talent for music as well… but no, she was only twelve years old and had no credentials to her name. She wouldn't do.

Remembering the speech Sandry had dealt Emberglow, Emilie decided that her Dedicate cousin would be the most appropriate choice. Either way, she could understand the sense of importance her friend must be feeling, performing for Empress Berenene, and would not want to take that away from her.

Her cousin was also a good choice in that he would be used to strange magics, having lived at a Circle temple for years. Creating lights and causing enemies to fling themselves off buildings? Yes, Steph's magic was certainly strange.

Emilie smiled to herself, intrigued with the possibilities of such a unique form of magic. Deep in thought, she had absently made her way into her chambers and sat down at her small, wooden desk, pulling paper and reed pens towards her as she did.

She had a letter to write.