A/N: Edited 01/16/10. Clear Skies recieved second place in the Winter 2008/2009 Ficship Competitions!
For my Betas:
Etariel- Thank you for giving me the plotbunnies I needed to keep the second edit interesting. I really appreciate you taking the time to reread the first edit and I hope this has some of your vision for the improvements.
LunaSphere- Endless reading and editing over months and months, while I'm sure you had more important things to do. Thank you so much for taking the time. This wouldn't be the same story without your help.
Katiebug- Thanks for all your help. I appreciate everything you've done for me on this. You have helped both edits get written.
Sweet Sassy Sarah- For staying up until the wee hours of the morning and listening to me whine. And for giving my confidence a boost, of course. X) Thank you for being my sounding board and for being so enthusiastic. You are the best motivational typer (lol) and punctuation checker ever.
In the midst of the sprawling Lightsbridge campus, the student's dining hall had been cleared, its many tables and benches removed from the floor's center and a stage set up at one end. The hall was filled with students, half of them craning to see the speakers that stood upon the platform and half of them staring into the air, obviously bored yet, not daring to speak to those around them. Most of the students were standing near the stage where the speeches were made, except for a stout redhead in a modest grey and blue dress. Tris stood back, far enough away from the stage that she was not crowded by those near the front, and near the middle of the room so she was away from the drafts of the papered windows. Her ears and eyes were sharp enough to pick up the speeches and the faces of the dozen mages seated on stage without forcing her to move into the crowd of bodies.
The head of the dormitories stepped back to allow the last speaker of the night to walk forward: an aging man that Tris recognized as the Headmaster of the school. This mage had been at the forefront of several of the greatest magical breakthroughs of his time, and had led the University of Lightsbridge for almost fifteen years. He had thinning white hair and wore expensive clothes in the older style of the region: a long, heavily embroidered, robe-like jacket.
He spoke slowly, but his words were clearly heard through the hall. "Welcome, students. This will be a changing experience for all of you. Lightsbridge University is a place of magic and academic learning. For those of you who are here to begin studies as mages tonight, you will be entering your three years of magical training. Some of you have already attended our classes here, and will have learnt the basics. Some of you have learnt magic elsewhere, and are continuing your education here. All of you have a mastering of the theories and control necessary to attend our prestigious University and to begin the arduous journey of becoming academic mages. All are welcome. All will reach their highest potential within-"
Bor-ing. How are you standing this in person, Coppercurls? You have been listening to speeches for hours. And now him?
He is a great man, Briar. I will learn something from him.
He'll give you a headache.
He will not.
Yup. Strike him down now, before the headache makes you more irritable and you toast your entire class.
Tris didn't bother to answer her foster-brother. A twitch of her power blocked him from her mind, and she focused again on the ancient man that stood in front of the new students.
"–walls. Your teachers are ready and willing to lead you on your journey. You will attend six classes throughout each week. Professors Forestwalker and Windmessenger will be continuing your work on theory," he gestured absently to his left. An unremarkable middle aged man raised his hand in a small, bored wave. The only woman seated on the stage looked up and nodded at the crowd. "Professor Clearwater, along with your dormitory leaders, will be working with you on control and meditation," Not one of the six acknowledged the introduction, although Tris assumed that it was the older man on the right, as a black-haired man gave him a raised-eyebrow in the moment of silence that followed the announcement of the name. Professor Clearwater seemed to be the oldest of her new teachers, with steel-grey hair and a slight stoop that Tris's eyes picked up, even though he held himself straight and glared above the heads of his new students. "Professor Thyme will instruct you on history," There was a wave and a nod from the ginger-haired man seated center. "Professor Barronscape will be teaching you spell structure," he was a tall man, towering over the others, even seated as they were. His hair and eyes were dark, contrasting against his light skin. "And Professor Ravenfeather will begin your introduction to practical magic," The young black-haired man smiled, and there was a small hoot from the crowd that made some giggle before the silence descended again. Tris looked around, but was too late to spot those involved. From Professors Clearwater and Forestwalker's glares, they had been, too.
The headmaster continued as if he heard nothing. "-and it is my hope that on that journey you will all find the knowledge of self and of others that will allow you to succeed. With success will come fulfillment. With fulfillment will come-"Tris finally blocked out the droning voice, admitting failure. She rubbed her forehead.
Why is the thief always right? she thought, irritably. He may have done great things, but he does give me a headache.
The students all clapped as the headmaster walked out of the room, with the teachers behind him. As the door shut behind them, there was an eruption of sound, the first since the speeches had begun after breakfast. The students stayed in the dining hall, most of them moving to the far wall, where food was being brought out by the university kitchen staff and set on the few tables that hadn't been removed to make space for the crowd to stand. Tris watched as the students lined up to grab wooden plates, small buns, cheese and slices from a cut of fowl. Small groups of students had already begun to form, cliques of pretty girls and flirting boys. Tris scowled. She had come here to learn, not to try to make false little friends and attend stupid parties.
You could try, Tris, Sandry's voice said in her mind.
You wanted to be normal, after all. No one here will shy away from you, or exclude you. Just talk a little. It won't kill you, Daja cut in.
I don't want to try, Tris replied, cranky with the pressure and the loneliness of leaving her family again.
A double sigh sounded in her head. Oh, Tris, Sandry said, exasperated.
Tris blocked them both. She didn't need them there. What did they know about this, anyway? Socializing was easy for them. Tris was always the one on the outside.
It doesn't have to be that way here. It will take work, but when have I ever shied away from work? Tris asked herself.
She turned and walked towards the table of food, unsure of where to start. She walked through a breeze—there was a pickpocket ready to work the crowd in the city down the hill, an amateur by the look of him. Tris picked up a napkin, a piece of cheese and a bun and wandered away from the tables, into the middle of the room. Thinking of what Sandry would do, she smiled at a nearby group of people, but they didn't respond. A girl walked past her, alone, and Tris opened her mouth to start a conversation when the girl spotted someone she recognized and hurried away. Tris pursed her lips and looked down at her hands, picking apart the bun. She couldn't do this.
And then what? she asked herself. Spend the next three years sitting by yourself in class?
She looked around the room again, analyzing the crowd in a different way. She tried to look past what she had seen as frivolous wastes of time on first glance. They were not as confident as they appeared. The vast majority of them did not know anybody, just like her. Look for the weaknesses, her foster brother had told her, years ago at Discipline, Look for where there's a distraction, so you can slip in. That had been about knife-fighting, but Tris could see how it applied to this 'fight'.
Look for a group that needs a distraction, she told herself. With a plan, Trisana Chandler could do anything.
Near the wall holding the food tables, near a small group of chattering nobles, two girls stood by themselves. One of them was a brunette with slightly tanned skin. She wore a dress made from expensive cloth and stood silent, her hands clasped awkwardly in front of her as she smiled at the conversation streaming from the girl she was standing with. The other girl was shorter, with lighter hair. Her teeth were visible from where Tris stood, as the girl talked non-stop. Every few moments the taller girl would throw a desperate look at the noble girls standing nearby, but no help was forthcoming. Tris saw the other girls' reactions: they either ignored her completely or glanced at her chattering companion and shrugged helplessly.
Wishing she were anywhere but where she was, Tris looked around the room again. There were no others standing alone as she was, and laughter seemed to be common to every other gathering of people. She weighed the option of sneaking away, but quickly discarded it. She'd have to meet her fellow students eventually, and meeting them after they had all made other friends would be even more difficult. Standing here alone was out of the question. She fixed her gaze on the small group and walked over.
The taller girl looked up as she approached, green eyes meeting Tris's grey. She smiled uncertainly, allowing it to grow when she was sure Tris was actually approaching her group. Tris made herself smile. The effort it took was not reassuring.
"Hello," she began as she reached the two girls. "I'm.... Siriana Farash," Tris said, giving the false name she, Niko and Sandry had made up before she left Summersea.
The girl smiled, introducing herself as Periann Gadrig. The chatty girl introduced herself as Darielle.
"Aren't you so very excited?" Darielle gushed, her small brown eyes fixed on Tris. I'm fresh meat, Tris thought uncharitably, scolding herself for the thought. Be nice, she reminded herself.
"This is just- it's Lightsbridge!" Darielle gushed. "A center for magic and academics. I mean, this is overwhelming! To be here, where all of these great people have studied. Can't you just not wait for classes to begin? I hope that the headmaster will eventually be one of our professors. He's a friend of the family, you know. My family has always been known for academic mages, along with being related to the nobility. Wasn't he an interesting speaker?"
Normally Tris would block out talk that she didn't care to listen to. Under the new mission of trying to act sociable, she forced herself to pay attention, and when the girl stopped for a breath, Tris thought it was her cue for a response. Never tactful, she said the first thing that came to her mind, "I thought he was really boring, myself."
There was a moment of silence. Tris found that there was no need to have blocked her siblings from her mind. She could hear their response clearly, just as if they were there. In unison: "Good old Tris."
Darielle looked at Tris scornfully, opening her mouth to scold her for impertinence, when the other girl, Periann, burst out laughing.
"Thank you, Siriana," Periann said, still giggling, "I felt I was the only one who had thought that speech was as boring as anything."
"He is a great mage-," Darielle started, but Tris cut her off.
"Greatness doesn't make you an interesting speaker, Darielle. And speaking constantly doesn't make you great."
Darielle stalked off, joining the group of nobles who were moving towards the table of food, and leaving the pair alone to Periann's giggles.
"That probably seems mean," Periann said to Tris. "But I've been trying politely to get her to stop talking since she adopted me on my arrival yesterday. When did you get here, Siriana?"
"Just Siri," Tris corrected. She had decided on the nickname after Niko had insisted on calling her Siriana for the week they spent in the city before the night's banquet. She had quickly grown tired of her new name. "I arrived last week."
"And you can call me Peri," Periann said, grinning. "I live in town with my family." She looked over at a group of boys as she said this. Tris examined them. There were only two brunettes in the group, and one of them looked so much like Peri that it was impossible not to count them as siblings. "Will you come with me to get a plate of food?" Peri smiled. "Boring speeches always make me hungry."
This time, Tris smiled with her. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, here.