*Warning: this chapter is unbetaed. It should be relatively free of errors (though I can't completely vouch for the ones caused by uploading the document onto ff, it likes to delete spaces) but if you should find any, don't flood me with reviews saying "you misspelled blahblahblah". You can message me and I'll fix it eventually, please reserve reviews for opinions, praises and constructive criticism.

Title: Enlightened
Rating: T (for now)
Genre: Romance, Angst, Humor
Series: None
Summery: After returning from Lightsbridge, determined to start her own business working as an ordinary mage, romance is the last thing on Tris's mind. Unfortunately, her siblings don't seem to understand that.
Author's Notes: This story takes place four years after The Will of the Empress and Melting Stones. To give you some perspective, our mage quartet are now twenty-two. Evvy is eighteen and Glaki is about twelve or thereabouts. Any other information needed will be addressed in the story. It is Tris/OC(s? You'll have to see), but there's also a side of Briar/Evvy, Daja/OC as well as appearances by Sandry, Glaki, Niko, Rosethorn, Lark and others.


By NoirGrimoir

Chapter One

The short and somewhat plump Trisana Chandler stepped out of Number 6 Cheeseman Street into the morning chill, feeling both nervous and determined. Her sharp, stormy blue-gray eyes gazed out from behind brass spectacles, analyzing the busy morning street with her long, straight nose high in the air, giving the impression that the young woman was ready to plow through any obstacle that might present itself. Winds carrying morning conversations from the market and colorful visions of fisherman at the harbor bombarded her but she ignored them as best she could and Tris was well-practiced. She hadn't any worries any longer that she would go mad or suffer from unrelenting headaches because of that particular power—she had a pair of Living Metal spectacles made by her Smith-mage sister, Daja, that would block the magic out if the images ever became too much for her to bear.

Standing for a moment in the bright spring sunlight wearing a fawn-brown dress over a white shift (both made by her own thread-mage foster-sister Sandry) and sensible shoes, she wore her academic mage-kit at her side in a pack. Her ambient mage kit was her coppery-red hair, done up in intricate braids coiled and pinned to her scalp in magical patterns to keep the forces stored within them under control. Fully prepared for a magical working, Tris's stature implied that she had readied herself for anything the world could throw at her this morning and thus she had every intention of encountering life head on.

At the age of twenty-two, she had finally returned to her shared home with her siblings after a four year absence attending Lightsbridge University and earning a license to practice ordinary only a week of enjoying the love of her family and being fussed over, she was already sick of it and ready for work. Her whole reason for going to Lightsbridge to begin with (aside from learning, which was one of her favorite activities) was to finally be able to make a proper living and not be a burden to her siblings. She knew Sandry, Daja and Briar wouldn't have seen it that way at all, but she couldn't help feeling that way, and now she would never have to. Tris was ready to support herself; to make her own way in the world independently.

Just yesterday she had picked up the new sign for the house from a carpenter down the street. She'd hung it herself in the same place as the previous one that afternoon with a sense of pride and accomplishment. It advertised not just her new business, but her sister Daja's forge and her brother Briar's shakkans and services as a green mage. The former sign was years old and hadn't listed Briar at all, so the new sign was much needed and very well received by her family. Briar had been holding off on ordering a new one for years, mostly because he kept forgetting, despite the fact that new, interested buyers sometimes had a difficult time finding the place, even when he'd given them the address and instructions to look for the big garden and not to be confused by the sign for Kisubo Smithy out front.

Also yesterday, she had went to a printing house and ordered a stack of pamphlets, advertising her skills and services, as well as her various qualifications and accomplishments, to be printed up so that she could distribute them this morning to the businesses in the area and begin bringing in revenue. The owner of the printing house had been on site and offered her a job immediately, spelling the building and printing presses against the works, including break-in, fire, injury or breakage and dust. If she was the sort of person that became giddy she might have been at that moment, but instead she was very pleased and relieved that her business had started off so well. Being an entrepreneur had it's risks and as a merchant's daughter, Tris was well aware of all of them, but she was very glad that her risks seemed to be paying off so very soon.

"Hey, Coppercurls! What are you doing out-and-about so early?" a familiar voice called to her from the garden on her right.

Her much-loved foster brother Briar was sitting on a bench in a shirt of undyed cotton and dark-green trousers that he had probably just thrown on a few minutes ago, drinking some of his special morning tea to help wake him up. Tris suspected his black hair would be a mess if he didn't keep it very short for precisely that reason. Despite the morning-drowsiness apparent in his droopy eye-lids, his grey-green eyes twinkled with mischief and his smile was warm.

"Please, Briar. Somepeople like to get a head start on their day, not trundle around in bed all the morning," Tris said with false haughtiness, adjusting her spectacles on her nose superiorly as she looked at her foster brother. She was mostly teasing, despite the fact that she probably looked perfectly serious, but she knew Briar was used to her dry sense of humor and wouldn't take offense when it wasn't meant. Sometimes he didn't even take offense when it was meant which was sometimes a relief and other times just vexing.

Besides, Tris thought, We both know he is up at dawn most mornings, weeding his garden and pruning his shakkans. And I wouldn't be surprised if Daja was at her forge right now and Sandry running around the Duke's citadel helping her uncle. All four of us tend to make early days of it. There never seems to be enough time to do everything one wants to do as it is.

"Hey, I'm awake, aren't I?" Briar said defensively. "And I'm up early just as often as anyone is, I just need a little help now and then." The green mage toasted her with his cup of tea. "So what would you be doing this fine morning, Mistress Lightsbridge-graduate?" he asked her cheekily, referring to her newly acquired status.

"I'm for the printing house to spell their warehouse and pick up my pamphlets," she informed him. "And then I'm off to Spicer Street and Cobbler's and Potter's Lane and then the docks, handing them out to all the shops and guildhalls. I want as many people aware of my new business as possible."

Briar chuckled. "It'd be hard for them not to be. You know most of the crafts people and shop keepers in Summersea and they know you, since you hang around watching them work and asking questions all the time. They were asking about when you'd come back the whole while you've been gone." Briar adjusted his expression and posture in what Tris recognized as an impression of one of her more colorful acquaintances on Potter's Lane. 'Where's the mage-girl with the glass dragon?'" Briar says, making his voice rough and deep. "When's she gettin' back? Oh, she's gettin' licensed, ye say? Well I wunner if she ken do sumfin' about the rats we been getting' in 'ere. The blighters be gettin' in mah storage shed an' eatin' all mah grain fer the cart horses!'"

Tris frowned at her brother and waved an unamused hand at him in a 'brushing off' gesture. "Master Rooklin did not say that."

"He did, too. May the gods strike me if I lie," Briar said with genial earnestness.

"Well, then perhaps I'll have another job by tonight," she said mostly to appease him. She wasn't at all as confident as Briar that these business owners and craftspeople even remembered her as soon as she was out of their hair. Doubtless they were much too busy to care about why a chubby red-head had stopped coming around and bothering them with questions about throwing a pot on a wheel or which kinds of fish were in season.

"If that's all you have to say, then I'm off," Tris said. "I'm leaving Chime here this morning so be wary of your mage kit. You know how she likes to get into things she's not supposed to."

Briar winced. He remembered the last time they left Chime unattended for a few minutes. Shredded herbs all over the ground and an unrepentant little glass dragon staring up innocently at the three housemates, as if wondering if they wanted to join the fun as well, was the result.

About to set off down the street, Briar called after her, "Hey, Tris, would you pick up a few things for me while you're out, if you have the time?"

A line appeared between her brows and Tris sighed exasperatedly. "Oh, I suppose so," she agreed grudgingly. Briar dictated a small list and she committed the items to memory before finally leaving the house and setting off to the printers.

Briar watched his sister as she disappeared around a street corner and confirmed that his magical tie with her was stretching as she moved farther away, before he jumped up from the bench to dash into the house, calling, "Daja! She's gone! And Sandry, you and your men-at-arms can stop hiding in the stable now so her breezes don't brush by you. Let's hurry up and get to scheming before Tris takes a look and realizes you aren't in the citadel like you're supposed to be. I gave her some extra things to do, but you know how she is—our Tris doesn't dilly-dally."

The printing press warehouse where Tris's pamphlets had been ordered and produced was a large wooden building with three floors. When Tris had gone there yesterday to place an order, it had been noisy and buzzing with activity, filled with apprentices arranging the upraised metal blocks of letters called 'sorts' into mirrored words and sentences, one at a time, while others melted down chipped blocks and cast new ones out of molten lead. Masters and journeymen worked in assembly-line fashion, applying ink to the metal surfaces of the finished page blocks with ink-bowls, arranging paper on the side called the frisket and pulling on the levers with a loud thunk to stamp the ink on the page, leaving beautiful, crisp, clear letters and then doing it all over again at speeds that made Tris's head spin.

But now the warehouse was quiet as Tris arrived at her destination in front of the building with her academic mage kit in hand, ready for work. Stepping inside the building's main entrance, she found the proprietor at a desk, going through what were probably accounts. He was a tall, lean man past middle-age, with short dirty-blond hair and an impeccable mustache streaked with white who went by the name of Printmaster Ockley.

"Good morning, Master Ockley," Tris told the man in what she hoped was a calm, professional manner. She didn't always make good impressions on people, mostly because she didn't particularly likemost people, but she had been making a habit of at least trying to control the tone of her voice so she didn't sound so very curt all of the time. She didn't want to scare off her first customer, and besides, she had liked the man yesterday. He seemed sober, intelligent, and efficient, and he'd answered all her questions about printing, pleased that someone was taking an interest in his craft.

She had warned the man yesterday when he had inquired about her business and they had set about working out a time and payment, that no one was to come in or out of the building while she set the spells and that, as a matter of fact, it was best if no one was inside at all at the time. This being so, he'd wisely decided that he'd give his people the morning off so she could perform her work.

"Ah, Mistress Chandler," he said around his large mustache in a voice like a puffing chimney. He immediately set aside his paperwork and stepped forward to shake her hand in greeting. "Glad you could come out so early, I appre—"

Just then a lean blond streak came flying in the door to huff and puff just inside the warehouse. "I'm here! I'm here!" the young woman said, gasping for breath with her hands on her knees as if she'd ran halfway across the city. "Reisha, please don't tell Printmaster Ockley I was late or Master Lampblack will—oh." The woman had finally looked up and realized that Tris, and the Printmaster Ockley she was so wary of, were staring at her, neither looking particularly happy at her sudden interruption.

"Cow dung," she cursed to herself miserably, realizing she was in trouble.

"Indeed," the Printmaster said, his mustached face set in a frown as he crossed his arms and gazed down at her unhappily.

Getting a good look at the girl, Tris saw that she was a few years younger than herself and her siblings, probably seventeen or so years old. Her hair was a messy dark-blond that fell just passed her shoulders in fly-away wisps and her face was moon-round with a wide mouth and big, light-blue eyes. Her skin was pale and freckled, and her five-seven frame was narrow-shouldered, small-chested, lean and gawky. She also blazed the silver of a mage in Tris's sight.

Oh dear, Tris thought to herself miserably, is this another student I'm going to have to deal with? I've found that I rather like teaching, but I haven't the time right now, I've only just started my business! Well, at least Briar, Daja and Sandry are here to help me this time, if that is the case. And Winding Circle isn't but a few hours ride away. Rosethorn and Lark only have two student's at the moment, I know—Glaki and a boy who I don't know terribly well— so they would probably be able to help me if I truly needed it.

"Calyra?" Ockley spoke, his tone displeased beyond measure.

The girl, Calyra, winced. "Yes?" she asked nervously.

"You remember the note your mage-teacher sent with you the last time I told him you'd been late?" Tris nearly fell over in relief. The girl already had a teacher; thatwas a load off her mind. Briefly, Tris wondered what the girl's magic was and why she was working in a printing house while being taught magic at the same time by a separate person. Granted there were any number of legitimate situations that could result in this arrangement but Tris, being a naturally curious sort of person, couldn't help but wonder none the less.

Calyra was clearly thinking something much different than Tris upon hearing Master Ockley's words. She hung her head in shame and recited, " 'It seems my student has developed quite a habit of tardiness. If you should find this persists, feel free to torture her inventively.'" Sighing, she mumbled, "And then the 'torture' is crossed-out and there's a caret inserting the word 'discipline' above it."

Master Ockley's mouth quirked a bit at the edges, then gave a sharp nod. "And so I will. This afternoon you're to demonstrate to the apprentices how to change the leather covers of the ink-bowls and then you're assigned to testing them on terminology of the printing-press parts. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Printmaster Ockley," she said in miserable resignation. Tris really didn't know what changing the covers of ink-bowls entailed, but she did know that teaching apprentices was generally considered the least worthwhile and most tedious of activities for journeyman and masters of crafts alike. Even for Tris, who didn't mind teaching so much, she knew that some children and many older people could really make it a pain. Case-in-point, the first week or so of teaching Keth.

The Printmaster made a grunt of satisfaction at Calyra's chastened state before making a 'shoo' gesture with his hands. "Right, now scat while Mistress Chandler spells the building and come back this afternoon."

"Wait, what?" the girl says upon looking up, her big eyes widened in confusion. Taking in her surroundings as if for the first time, her eyes fell on Tris, (who was trying very hard to keep a blank, professionally aloof expression on her face), and the empty warehouse behind her. "Hey, there's no one here! But you said I was late, how can I be late if no one else is here?" she complained to the Printmaster.

"No, you said you were late," Ockley corrected her, "And you would have been, too, if not for the fact that the Printing House is closed this morning so that this mage can do her work without anyone being underfoot."

"But then why am I being punished?" she asked with furrowed eyebrows.

"Because obviously you either weren't paying attention yesterday when I made the announcement, or you left early without permission, not to mention that you were late yesterday as well and tried to hide it," the man explained unsympathetically.

Even though it wasn't any of her business, Tris nodded from next to him in agreement. Punctuality was very important, as was paying attention to one's teachers and superiors. In some matters it could be life-or-death, and all mages needed to learn the lesson well. Tris in fact had learned the hard way by trying to stop the tides as a student even after Niko had expressly told her not to. She was aware to this day that her disobedience could have lead to her death. Teachers tended to give good information if you paid attention to them.

Calyra blushed with embarrassment and coughed into her hand.

"Now let's leave Mistress Chandler to her work," Ockley said and started to step out before Calyra spoke up again eagerly.

"Oh! Can I watch?" she said turning to Tris, nearly startling the weather-witch that she was being addressed. "Please? I won't be any trouble, I swear!"

Printmaster Ockley frowned. "Mistress Chandler doesn't need you pestering her," he said.

"I won't pester, I'll just watch!" Calyra pleaded. "I'll be quiet as a mouse. She won't even know I'm here!"

Tris frowned. While it was true that people being in or around the building didn't matter to the process of casting the spells she would be laying, crossing the threshold between the inside and outside of the building could really make it go hay-wire or not cast properly, as well as be distracting for the mage. One person who stayed inside with her probably wouldn't be a big problem, but Tris was still hesitant.

"Unless you can see magic, there won't be much to watch," she warned the younger girl. "Even then, it isn't something altogether spectacular." Not like throwing lightning around or calling rain, Tris thought wryly.

"I know, but I just want to watch anyway. Please? I will be perfectly still and quiet," she said.

"I suppose so, if Master Ockley agrees, but don't interrupt me," Tris conceded to the young woman, wearing her most stern expression. Ockley was as dubious as Tris was on the matter, but the hopeful look the girl had in her eyes must have been too much for the Printmaster, and he said it was alright and gave Tris express instructions that if Calyra did anything to hinder her, the mage was to send the girl directly to him in the office.

A few minutes later found Tris walking the perimeter of the building with Calyra following along behind her, as quiet as she'd promised to be, while Tris breathed in meditation rhythm, whispering words and directing her power into the magical signs she was drawing with a glass wand from her mage kit. The symbols hung in the air, glittering in her sight. After establishing the boundaries of her spell, she went back inside and lit a wand of incense and burned special herbs as she wrote more signs in the smoke, chaining the gestures into a spell that would dissuade burglars or vandalism. She did the same on all the floors, and then sealed the spell before beginning back on first floor with the next spell, this one against injury and accidents.

She drew from her mage kit a polished pink Rhodonite sphere that glowed in her sight, it's ability to grant assuredness and efficiency enhanced by the spell laid on it for Tris by her brother's former-student Evvy, an ambient stone mage who was training to be a Living Circle Earth Dedicate. She wrote more symbols in the air with the stone in her hand and over all of the printing-presses, taking out more stones to repeat the process and infuse more qualities into the spell. Tris only vaguely noticed, so concentrated as she was on her work, that the girl who had pleaded so enthusiastically to watch was sitting cross-legged on the ground with her eyes closed all the while.

Sealing that spell after going all through the building with it, she took out a pre-made piece of special paper with her spell already written on it, and burned it, letting the ashes scatter in the air. That would ward against dust and any contaminants in the air. Finally she drew a flask of water and herbs that she had also prepared in advance and dipped her finger in it, using that to write symbols on the walls, protecting against fire consuming the building. When she was finished, she spoke the words for sealing and then let out a breath of accomplishment at her work. The whole building blazed in her magic sight.

From the floor, Calyra groaned as she stood up, stretching out legs which were no doubt stiff from being in the same position for so long.

"I told you it would be boring," Tris said in a monotone voice, pushing up her spectacles with one finger.

"I didn't feel anything," she said disappointedly. "My teacher's magic and mine overlap some, so I can feel with my magic how he does some things. He told me that if I could feel how a mage does a magic working, than there was a pretty good chance that I had the ability to do it, too. But I couldn't tell how you were doing anything, just sort of feel a buzz from all the power, so I guess I can't do this sort of thing."

"Well, that is true of ambient magic," Tris said, quickly falling into 'teacher mode.' "But if you have any kind of magic, than you can perform academic magics to some extent. The difference is that ambient mages work through things that are found in everyday life, using crafts like carpentry and plants and metal-working to shape their spells and effects. Academic magic on the other hand relies on symbols, gestures and tools to direct the spell. You're an ambient mage, I take it?" Tris asked the girl.

Ambient magic was much rarer than academic magic, so ordinarily she wouldn't assume a person had the one instead of the other, but an academic mage would already have known that information. Besides, they were standing in a printing house—that was to say, a building for the purpose of performing a craft—what were the odds she wasn't a mage whose power had something to do with printing?

"Yes, I am," she nodded in fascination and surprise. "With things that have to do with paper and paper-like materials that you print or write on. Like paper-making and printing, and folding-craft."

Hmm, that's one I haven't come across very often, Tris thought. In fact, the closest she thought she'd come was an incredibly old man, Master Yosef Oakgall, the Chief Librarian at Lightsbridge University, a man who was considered a Great Mage and who's magic allowed him to access the information stored in the books in the library instantly using his mind, as well as call books to his hands from high shelves, (a very simple, but handy skill, especially since the man's bones had seemed as brittle as chalk, he was that ancient). The man was so very busy, as well as gruff, grouchy and difficult to approach, that she hadn't been able to ask much about what sort of things ambient book magic could do, if indeed that was what it was.

A paper mage was something she hadn't any experience with, though her siblings might, but probably they were fairly rare. Among ambient mages, some magics were more common than others. Tris's lightning magic for instance was extremely rare, while Evvy's stone magic was the most common form of ambient magic there was. Sandry's thread magic was somewhat common, Daja's smith magery somewhat rare and Briar's plant magic about in the middle.

Of course, that was just kinds of magic. Strength in that magic, no matter what kind it was, was another matter altogether and Tris and her foster siblings were extremely powerful, making them the rarest of the rare, as far as most people were concerned. Really, only their teachers rivaled them in their respective fields, and as far as Tris knew, she was one of the only lightning mages on the continent alongside her former-student Keth, in Namorn.

Tris pushed up her spectacles. "Well then, provided you have the power, than you could do what I did, after training. For the most part it isn't a matter of feeling how to do it, since the signs are directing the energy and not the mage herself. I went to Lightbridge for years to learn how to do this sort of thing." What she didn't say was that it had taken her only four years, which was practically unheard of, even for someone who had gotten to skip a great deal of the lower division classes because much of her former teaching carried over.

"Hmm, I see," Calyra said, nodding in thought. After a moment, she smiled. "It's nice actually having someone tell me things straight off again. My teacher used to do that, but now when I ask questions he asks me weird questions back or talks in parables. He says they are exercises in critical-thinking, to help me figure out the answer myself, but I tend to think he's just messing with my head." She made an irritated face.

Tris smirked at the complaint. There were a few times in the past when Niko had made her think like that. Mostly he was straight forward, but occasionally he could dance around saying something so frustratingly that it made her want to pull out her red hair by the roots.

Well, as curious as Tris was on the subject of what a paper mage might be able to do, she still had many things to get done today. If she ever wanted to question the girl, Tris knew where to find her.

Leaving the printing house, she informed Master Ockley that she was finished placing the spells on the building. He thanked her profusely, telling her she had done the job twice as fast as the mage he'd hired the previous time. He promised to recommend her to all of his acquaintances and then he presented her with a bag of coins and the pamphlets she'd ordered in a large stack tied with twine, every page printed with crisp, perfect black lettering on the thick, durable pale blue paper she'd chosen.

She said her goodbyes and thank-yous to the man and the mage-student as the workers started arriving for the afternoon shift. Ravenous and proud, Tris decided that she had definitely earned her midday meal today.

"They did what?" Sandry and Briar shouted in outrage simultaneously.

The two siblings were in the common room with their foster sister Daja. Sitting in chairs around the breakfast table facing the garden window, all three were on their third cup of Briar's tea blend, brewed by Daja when she'd seen they were about to run out of the first batch. Her men-at-arms talking and lounging outside with Chime to entertain them, Sandry sat on Daja's right in her noble finery—a simple but stylish riding dress of a wine-burgundy with mauve embroidery on the neckline and cuffs, her brown hair pined up in a deceptively complicated bun and covered by a matching veil. Her ears were adorned by understated garnet drops.

Daja herself had her black braids tied back and had on a plain, utilitarian brown pair of trousers and a shirt of undyed cloth with dark brown leather vest, as she planned on working out in the forge later, but right now she had more important things to do.

The smith mage had just finished recounting the tale Tris had told her four years ago in Namorn after Rizu had declined to come with her lover to Emelan. Daja had been in a state, crying and angry with the world for taking away the first true romance of her life, snapping at everyone and being a right bitch. Tris had started a fight with her after the crazy-man they'd been looking after, Zhegorz, had taken something Daja had said in grief personally and sequestered himself in a closet. They'd screamed at each other and thrown insults until Tris had finally realized what the real issue was—that Daja had been left by someone she'd loved. Even if it had only been for just a summer, it had hurt and Tris had seen that. She'd been uncharacteristically sympathetic but also put the matter in perspective for Daja. After that, she'd told her foster sister her own problems finding love; about being cruelly teased and having honey thrown at her when it had been found out that she'd liked a boy.

Daja had remembered Tris's story of shame and embarrassment and kept it locked in her memory, untold, as she thought her friend and sister would have preferred. She hadn't divulged the tale to either of their other foster-siblings and Tris had seemed to appreciate that.

It was only in the last few years that Daja had begun to think that hiding Tris's story might be a mistake.

Yes, Tris could be short-tempered, exacting, harsh, suspicious and had a tendency to speak her mind in situations where diplomacy might get her farther, but she was also caring, patient with children and animals, honest, responsible, loyal and fiercely intelligent. Sure, you had to scratch away the patina surface a bit, but underneath that was a truly wonderful person, like bright, shiny copper. Daja couldn't see how other people seemed to miss that. Outside of romance, Daja liked men just fine. Some of her favorite people, her teachers Niko and Frostpine, as well as Duke Vedris and her brother Briar, were male. She knew there were good ones out there, so how come none of them ever seemed to find Tris? It just didn't seem fair.

And Tris actually seemed to be resigned to that! She just accepted that she would be alone for the rest of her life. That there just wasn't anyone out there who could like her outside of her immediate friends. The girl had been in Lightsbridge for four years and that whole time she had buried herself in her studies without even looking at a male. She'd had opportunities to at least consider a few boys, but she hadn't even tried. Tris was giving up before she even started, and at this rate Daja was afraid she'd give up on love all together. The smith mage had found love once, for a summer, and now she'd found love again in a wonderful woman, Yosleen Morrowell—Ah, Yosleen! she mused, then shook off the drunken affects that thinking of her lover brought on. But anyway, if Daja could find love, then surely it was possible for everyone.

Briar and Sandry hadn't been quite so lucky, but they'd had friends and short-term lovers. They'd had fun. They'd experienced someone desire them and them alone at least for a night. And they were still looking, if only casually, content to wait until the right person showed up. Tris had found no one to hold her even for the short term; she hadn't even looked. And now that she was back from Lightsbridge she still hadn't any interest in finding romance. She'd said herself that it was a foregone conclusion that she would fail, one night when Daja had mentioned the possibility. The Trader-girl couldn't stand her saati being alone anymore, feeling unlovable. Something had to be done.

And so, she'd recruited Sandry and Briar.

And I'm still not really sure if it was a good idea or a bad one, Daja thought after telling Tris's secret to her two friends, But with all three of us pitching in, we're bound to come up with something to help the situation.

"Ooh! If I ever get my hands on them…I will make life very unpleasant for them," Sandry declared through gritted teeth, her hands clenching her plush leather riding gloves, cornflower-blue eyes flashing with righteous anger.

"Lakik's blessing on all of them!" Briar hollered in a similar vain. Daja thought he might have spat on the floor if it wouldn't have meant more work for their housemaid. "I wish I knew curses. I'd whip up a curse that would chase 'em clear across the continent!"

"I can't believe she never told us, her sister and brother! She's been acting all this time as if everything was wonderful—or, well, normal, at least—but then she's had that kind of experience? It's no wonder she won't so much as glance at any men when I point them out to her!" Sandry said, crossing her arms with a scowl. "All she sees are a bunch of devilish boys trying to hurt her."

"I suppose it's a good thing those boys aren't here," Briar said, taking a calming breath. "Your uncle would have to send the harriers to haul meoff to justice, Sandry, 'cause those boys would be dead."

"Piffle," Sandry said, her nose up in the air, her back straight as she spoke in her most self-assured, haughty 'noble' voice. "That's of no consequence. I'm sureUncle would pardon you from the crime. They would deserve it, after all."

"Listen, you two, you're missing the point," Daja said. "Those boys hurting her isn't even the worst part. She believes all the stuff they've been saying to her and she expects to be alone forever! She's not even letting herself like anyone because she doesn't think they could ever like her back! At this rate she'll never find love."

"This is so terrible. How could we have ever let this happen?" Sandry said to her friends once the information had sunken in.

"Well, it's hardly ourfault we were all separated, traveling with our teachers for four years, and then she'd only been back a few months before she was off again to University. Even if she wouldn't take offence to it, we can't be with her allthe time. Besides, she can protect herself," Briar said, even though he didn't like it any better than his other foster-siblings.

"Oh, I know," Sandry admitted, biting the nail of her thumb. "I just feel so awful about it all!"

"So you tell us this story, Trader-girl, now what? What do you think we should do?" Briar asked Daja. He and Sandry both looked ready to defend their sister's right to find love and follow whatever brilliant plan Daja must have to do so.

"Well, uh," she stuttered and leaned back in her chair, not feeling at all confident. "I was kind of hoping one of you might have an idea?"

All three of them deflated a bit, realizing that of course it wouldn't be that easy; nothing in life ever was, and love even less so. They all dropped their contemplative eyes down to the wood grains in the table as they racked their brains for an idea.

"You think we ought to talk about it with her? Explain that we think she's making a big mistake?" Sandry proposed hesitantly.

Briar rolled his eyes."The direct approach? With Coppercurls? Try again, Sandry."

"Tris just gets angry and stubborn and boards everything up if you go at her head-on about something she doesn't like," Daja said, tapping her lips with a finger as she considered the puzzle. "We've got to find a sideways approach. Find a way to gentle her into the idea."

And of course who did they know who could gentle people into things like none other? It didn't take a magical bond for them to know what each other was thinking in this case, just a lifetime of shared experiences and a deep knowledge and familiarity with each other. Their eyes met for a moment, the exact same person on their minds, before they all shook their heads, realizing the same problem.

"I'm sure Lark would help us, but I don't know if Tris would like it if we told anyone else her secrets." Daja spoke aloud what they were all thinking. "And we'd have to cook up some excuse for her to actually go down to Winding Circle or visa versa and have Lark get her alone." Besides, Daja thought, It would be cowardly to make Lark take all the risk while we sat safe and sound at a distance from Tris's temper. Though I don't suppose Rosethorn would let her blow up too badly on Lark.

"But we can keep it in our back pockets," Briar said with a slight, conspiratorial smile. "Maybe as an adjunct to our plan."

Daja smirked. "You mean the plan we don't have yet?"

"Shush," Briar said with a frown.

Sandry suddenly stood up, her most mulish, determined expression displayed on her face as she pointed a finger directly into the air as if she was about to make some universe-wide proclamation that would bring winds to bear and mountains to their knees.

"Alright then, if Tris won't look for someone herself, then it is up to us to do it for her!" she declared.

Daja and Briar blinked up at their sister dubiously.

"What are you talking about, you crazy noble?" Briar asked with a raised eyebrow and a wry expression.

Sandry blew air out of her button-nose, looking like an angry bull, then she raised her chin, bringing all of her authority as Duke Vedris's niece into her voice. "We will find someone for our dear sister," she clarified. "That is what I'm talking about. Then we parade them in front of her until she falls madly into love—or at least lust—and then send them at each other!" She clapped her hands excitedly, a huge grin taking over her face at the very thought of the situation she described.

Briar stared at Sandry a moment before turning to Daja. "Did you check the label on that tea before you made it Daj'?" he asked his sister. "I think there was something funny in it."

For her part, Daja just shrugged with a thoughtful look on her face. "It said Morning-Pick-Me-Up Tea, but someone must have messed with it."

Sandry made a sound of disgust and crossed her arms irritably as she pouted and sat back down in her chair. "I'm serious," she said. "What better way to prove to Tris that love is out there, than to find it for her?"

"Sure, except that she refuses to even consider the idea of love," Daja pointed out.

Sandry rolled her eyes and batted a hand at her friend's excuse. "Oh please, since when have intentions had anything to do with feelings? If we find someone perfect enough, then it won't matter: Tris will fold up like a limp rag!"

"Well, that's all well and good, Mistress Nobility," Briar said, "but where are you going to find this 'perfect' person for Tris? It isn't as if we can just go to market and pick up someone to set in front of her."

All three siblings stifled laughs at the image of them picking up some faceless person at a shop, setting them in Tris's room like a coat rack and having her walk up the stairs this afternoon to find him there waiting for her. The look on her face would be hilarious to see. Of course, the shouting, the wind and the lightning afterwards wouldn't be. It might almost have been worth it, though, if such a thing were possible.

Daja nodded in agreement, setting the previous thought aside. "We all love Tris, but we also know she's not the easiest to get along with, either. If the person doesn't reciprocate her feelings, than she'll just get hurt again. She has a hard time warming up to people as it is."

"Besides, I can't even picture the kind of person that Tris would fall 'madly in love' with," Briar said wryly, rested his chin in his hand. "They'd have to be coated in lightning and rain for her to even look at them."

"Well, not necessarily. They could be coated in any interesting subject. We all know how she likes learning," Daja suggested with a grin.

"Wasn't she interested in clock-making recently, Daj'?" Briar remembered with a smirk. "You could take a few clocks apart and fuse the metal wheels and cogs to the person with your magic. She'd look then."

"Or we could just open up a bunch of books and Sandry can make their clothes stitch the spines into them." Daja said with a chuckle. "She'd tolerate them at least long enough to read all the books."

Sandry sighed and shook her head at the green mage and smith mage exasperatedly. "Come on, you two. Help me think of someone who she might like!" she pleaded.

"What does she like, anyway? Seriously, I mean. Like, what kind of person would she want?" Briar wondered aloud.

"A boy," Daja clarified. "She told me she has no interest in girls."

"Well, that narrows it down some. Not much, but some," Sandry said, trying to sift through the faces of everyone she knew to come up with an adequate suitor for her sister and friend.

"And they'd have to be smart," their foster-brother said while tapping his chin in consideration. "She can't stand stupid people, you know she can't. She chews 'em up whole and spits 'em back out."

The young noblewoman nodded her head in complete agreement. "Yes, that goes without saying."

Daja itched the side of her face, also thinking on the problem. "Probably someone older that her," she realized. "Even more so than us, she tends to get along with older people. Or more mature people, at the very least."

"And she hates it when people look at her funny, so they've got to be used to powerful magics," Briar reminded everyone.

"So a mage then, I guess?" Daja suggested.

"Or someone used to big magic. A mage might be competitive. We all hate when people think they have to try to prove they're better than us just because we're considered prodigies and got our medallions at thirteen," Briar added, remembering all those times when people their age and even older would grow jealous and shun them for having superior abilities at such a young age, thinking they must have cheated somehow or were hording their techniques to keep others from reaching their level. It wasn't a pleasant feeling at all, especially considering it was all rubbish. Tris, as the most spectacular of the four, had dealt with it to an even more advanced degree, and they all knew she was the most easily hurt out of them, despite her armor of cynicism.

"But a magic-less person might be nervous around her," Sandry pointed out with equal consideration, remembering similar instances of injustice against their sister. "Tris is the most flashy of us. It would probably take another mage to accept miniature lightning sprouting from her hair without being afraid." She shrugged, wearing a slightly wry smile as she said, "But mage or not, they need to be very brave."

"Well, yeah. They'd have to be practically fearless to get near Tris in the mornings, magic or no," Briar said with an amused smile at the thought. "She always looks like she's about to hack at you with her nose until you're just a few bits of gravel that she can sweep up with a broom." They all shared a laugh at the thought.

"And on top of all that, being interesting will really help," Daja added to the conversation once the giggles had dissipated. "So, well-traveled? Scholarly? Someone who can tell her things she doesn't know and keep her entertained."

"Oh-oh! And they can't be a slob!" Briar interjected as soon as the idea came into his mind. "It took us a year to find a housemaid and cook she was satisfied with. They have to be perfectly organized and hygienic. Not a speck of dust anywhere in their bedroom. Tris would be really impressed by that." He nodded to himself, proud at this observation.

Daja shot her brother a sly grin. "Expecting her to wind up cloistered in someone's bedroom so soon?"

He shrugged shamelessly. "Well, finding someone like this will probably take a lot of effort, so yeah, she'd better take advantage of it, or I'll be really hurt." He fake-pouted for a moment before continuing, "Besides, having some 'fun' might take out some of that burr in her saddle that she's been carrying around since we met her."

"Don't expect miracles, Briar," Daja told him. "It's sex, not a personality replacement."

"Yeah…besides, Tris wouldn't be Tris if she wasn't at least a little crabby," the green mage admitted.

"Right, so what do we have so far?" Sandry interrupted and began ticking points off onto her fingers. "A male who is smart and interesting, who can handle her odd magic, and isn't afraid of her sharp remarks, who is older than her and very clean. Now, who do we know that meets our criteria? And who hasn't been any of our teachers," she added hastily. "Or our students."

All three of them retreated to their own minds as they meditated on this question.

After a few minutes of mutual silence, Briar frowned. "I'm sure there has to be someone. It's just…none are coming to me right now."

"Me neither," Daja followed in a similar vein.

"Nor me," Sandy admitted dejectedly.

They all sighed.

"Well, how about we just keep an eye out for a few days, thinking on the idea?" Daja suggested for lack of any other solution presenting itself. "And if we think of someone who would make a good match, we'll suggest them at our next meeting. That sound good?"

"I guess so," Briar agreed. "I'm sure someone's name is going to pop into my head in the middle of the night now and ruin my sleep."

"Walking around and coming into contact with various people is bound to trigger something," Sandry said with a nod.

"All right then," Daja nodded with satisfaction. "Now, when Tris comes home, all we talked about was the recent increase of the exchange rate of Lairanese silver, right?"

"Right!" her siblings said together.

After buying food from a vender and eating it while walking, enjoying every crumb after all the energy-sapping spell work she'd conducted, Tris set about spreading her flyers. She window-shopped in various stores she was familiar with, reacquainting herself with old friends and handing out her pamphlets to the shop-owners, some of whom were even kind enough to promise to spread the word, and hung the pamphlets in the windows to be seen by all who passed by. With such great advertising, Tris was beginning to feel unusually optimistic and now she was certain that business would be booming in a week or two. She had the best credentials and charged reasonable prices, who wouldn't be interested?

While making her rounds, Tris stopped to pick up a few plant ingredients for medicine which weren't common enough that it was economical for Briar to grow them himself and which weren't exotic enough that he had to if he wanted a reliable supply and some money on the side. They had been amongst the things asked for by her foster-brother, along with a few other odds and ends.

Passing by a familiar new and used book store, Tris stopped to look at it longingly. She was busy and she knew that if she walked in, she would inevitably spend more time than she meant to inside. She loved books with a passion, and what was more, she was in need of something to read as she'd finished a book leant to her by Duke Vedris just the night before.

I shouldn't, Tris told herself, even though in the back of her mind she kept thinking that, especially after the work she'd done today, she not only deserved a good book, but had the funds to afford one.

In the end she couldn't help herself. It would only take a moment: she'd chat with the store owner and give him her pamphlet, then buy the first book that caught her eye. She would only be a little while. A half hour at most.

Tris's hands itched as she forced herself to pass by the table covered in piles of books in front of the store, being watched by a young woman about thirteen years old, who she knew was the youngest daughter of the owner, Master Nelsin. Tris smiled at her and the girl smiled back, saying, "Welcome!" but gave no sign that she recognized Tris at all. This, she supposed, wasn't surprising since the shop-girl would have been only nine at the time and usually sitting at a desk in the corner practicing her letters, oblivious to anyone else around.

Stepping into the bookstore, Tris took a deep breath, reveling in the smell of paper, parchment and leather from new and old books alike. Looking around at the shelves and tables with books, stacks of paper and writing paraphernalia occupying every available surface, she felt almost giddy. There was no doubt that many new things had come in since she'd been in the shop, things she'd never read before. Tris was bound to find a new and interesting read here, not to mention that Master Nelsin was quite adept at recommending books to his customers. She'd never gone wrong purchasing something he'd suggested to her.

"Well, if it isn't Trisana!" Tris heard, and she turned to see the owner himself: an older man, rather short, stoat and decidedly mole-like, his close-cropped greying hair covering his head in a light fuzz, his squinting light blue eyes behind glasses even thicker than her own and wearing the clothing of a scholar, ink stains on his fingers and all.

Walking towards her, he stopped to grab her hand in his larger pudgy one and pumped it heartily. "I haven't seen you in a few years! Your friends told me you went to study at Lightsbridge," he said jovially.

"Yes, it's true," she admitted with a nervous smile and adjusted her glasses, pushing them up the bridge of her long nose with one finger.

She was embarrassed, but also charmed, that the man had thought about her despite the fact that he had used her much-disliked full first name. She hadn't known she'd left any kind of impression on the man. She hadn't even realized he'd known her full name to begin with; she'd always introduced herself as Tris, and he usually just addressed her as 'dear.'

"But I'm back now. And I'm starting my own business," she explained.

"Wonderful! Good for you, dear, good for you!" the man said with genuine happiness that made her smile widen all the more for it's warmth, even though the expression usually wasn't her forte.

It was then that she noticed the man just behind him who the shop owner had obviously been speaking to when she entered.

"Did I interrupt something?" Tris asked hesitantly, feeling a bit self-conscious of the fact that Master Nelsin had just snubbed someone to greet herof all people. The man usually didn't make a habit of doing that sort of thing to his patrons.

Master Nelsin blinked in surprise. "Oh! Heinzenrich, so sorry!" he said, turning to the other man. Speaking to Tris, he patted a hand on her shoulder and kindly said, "Browse around a bit, take your time, dear. We'll talk in a moment after I finish this up, yes? Good!" then turned to the man and the two began to haggle in what Tris realized was a situation where Master Nelsin was buying a large stack of used books from the fellow.

On occasion Tris liked to watch the back and forth of two people trying to get the best deal, but right now she was more interested in the countless volumes of literature around her and she ignored their discourse in favor of looking at books. Sweeping over the titles, she skipped over the ones she'd already read (which were a surprisingly large amount of them) and pulled out the few that caught her fancy, opening them up to read the first few pages and decide whether it was something she would enjoy, completely forgetting about her resolution to grab the first likely book she saw, pay for it and leave quickly.

By the time she'd made it half way around the shop she had a few hopefuls. Inspired by her trip to the printers, she'd picked up Making the Mark: A History of the Evolution of Writing and it's Contributions to the Present, and with that, she had leapt to add Tales of the Painted Desert: A Compilation of Translated Folklore of the Cehrokoe Tribe of the Western Continent as the native people of that region were of particular interest to her, partly because it was a subject she knew virtually nothing about and she felt the need to remedy that. Aside from those two however, she was having a problem deciding between a book that appeared to be about the flora and fauna of tropical rainforests all over the world and another on the history of a no longer existing empire across the Pebbled Sea to the south called Jyptica.

She held the two books in front of her, willing them to speak to her and tell her which to buy. Not surprisingly, no disembodied voices popped into her head with commandments concerning which to purchase. She sighed her frustration.

I almost wish Chime were here, Tris thought wryly. She'd accidentally scratch up a leather binding or tear a page or two and I wouldn't have to make the decision myself—I'd be forced to pay for whichever one she happened to damage. The will of the Gods indeed, she snuffed.

"—quite rare, and in perfect condition, I can't believe you would want to sell them," penetrated Master Nelsin's voice into her frustrated brain. Unexpectedly, Tris found herself eavesdropping as he was haggling with the stranger across the room.

"Yes," came voice of the other man, a little deep and tinged with an innate tone of misery that some people had even when they were splendidly happy. "But it's been made clear to me that owning seven copies of Lucierne's Divided Minds is a bit excessive, and so I've finally allowed myself to part with three of them, along with a few other extra copies of books I own."

Tris frowned slightly as she found herself listening in. The exceptionally crisp, preciseness of the pronunciation, along with a hint of something foreign and curiously unfamiliar to Tris in the man's manner of speaking told her two things.

Firstly, it told her that she was listening to someone whose original language wasn't the Imperial Kuchali that all the countries between Namorn and Tharios, which were formerly part of the Kurchal Empire, spoke. The accent also wasn't Namornese, though she thought it might be related.

Secondly, the person was likely highly educated, or at least taught the language by someone who was. Tris had found that most people—her former teachers Niko and Dedicate Crane included—who spent a great amount of time involving themselves in the serious academic circles of universities seemed to adopt a concise and exacting way of saying and using words that, through the effort of trying to eliminate the accenting or muddying of the language, became it's own distinct and easily recognizable dialect.

Truthfully, upon her return from Lightsbridge, Tris had been teased a bit by her siblings for acquiring a flavoring of said dialect in her own manner. But if Tris's speech had been tinged, this man's had been soaked, and only the odd not-Namornese language echoing in his vowel-sounds and diphthongs hinted he had ever spoken otherwise.

"But this version is in the original Qalish," Master Nelsin argued passionately to the other man. "It's not exactly an antique, but they don't publish these anymore, either!"

There was a melancholic sigh. "Yes, I know," said the patron, his tone edged in frustration. "I keep telling myself I'm going to brush the dust off my Qalish and write a new translation—Bowen's version is so inaccurate and lacking in poetic skill it's a wonder anyone takes it seriously—but I'm already doing the same thing for The Epinoa Cycle and Pancreon's A Dark Shade on Humanity and I'm already being harangued by Edeleia to translate Dalion Flintstrike's expedition journals, which he wrote partly in Namornese, partly in Norsringian and partly in an obscure runic alphabet in Old Nurwign for some exceedingly bizarre reason. I'm pretty sure he was a bit touched, because even I'm not that eccentric. So really, I just don'thave the time. If I ever come to a point when I'm not translating something else then I know people who can get me another copy."

Tris frowned to herself as she kept her head down, pretending to be looking through the pages of one of her books as she pulled a bit of air through the room so she could hear the conversation better. She didn't recognize any of those titles, but she found herself becoming interested. She loved books and found languages to be fascinating even though she wasn't any kind of linguist herself, though she was a bit proud of fluently speaking both Namornese and Tharian, in addition to her Imperial. Listening in to a discussion combining the two was a treat she couldn't tear herself away from, she would just have to make sure she continued to do so discretely.

Tris heard Master Nelsin scratch his head. "Well, if you are sure…," he told the man unconfidently.

"You musn't try to talk me back out of it," the man warned. "My apprentice would be sorely disappointed. She just spent two months getting me to agree to just this. I have whole shelves of tomes that she insists are equally wasteful of space."

Master Nelsin snorted. "Oh, youngsters these days! They just don't understand the value of the written word."

Tris narrowed her eyes at her page. Then what am I, she thought, a goose?

"Lucierne's Divided Minds is a masterpiece," the bookstore owner continued fervently. "One could never own enough copies! And so is Verid's The Gods' Many Handsand Bagua's Of Earth and Man. I might just keep these myself…," he threatened.

"You are welcome to—I would know they were given the respect they deserve. They aren't particularly valuable copies, so it isn't as if I'm losing a great deal of money on the sale. Even so, it really is hard to part with them, Divided Minds especially, but I already have a one-of-a-kind Qalish copy which was personally owned by Lucierne's contemporary, Marius Drakogni, with his commentary written in the margins. And between the other three I have the major translations: a Namornese translation by Harkram—which is wonderful—an illuminated version translated by Abbot Klaussen into Norsringian, and a really old Imperial translation by Garner that really ought to be used instead of Bowen's because, not only is it more accurate, but it actually tries to keep the verse more or less intact. So that being said, these are just weighing me down."

Tris frowned to herself. Okay now that just sounded like he was showing off.

"I actually had to buy a new shelf last week because I hadn't room for all my books," the stranger added, "but then I realized I hadn't room for the new shelf either—and I don't know how that got by me—I already had so many. It was at that point that I began to consider that amidst my apprentice's bellyaching there might actually be a valid argument."

Master Nelsin chuckled at the tale. "Well in that case you do seem to be quite covered. Still, it's a pity, but your loss is my gain!" he responded excitedly. There was a jingling of coins and Tris knew the transaction had been made. "Trisana, dear!" she heard the shopkeeper call her, and she whipped around, wondering if she'd been caught.

"Come have a look at these!" the old man beckoned merrily as she eyed him with wariness. "No doubt one of them will interest a learned girl such as yourself," he said.

She hesitated for a moment but did end up walking up to the table where Master Nelsin and his companion were standing with a serious looking stack of books. After eying them hungrily, Tris took this opportunity to examine the man she'd been eavesdropping on.

He was a little younger than she's expected, but still a good bit older than herself; perhaps twenty-eight or twenty-nine; she didn't think she'd go so far as to say thirty. His build was middling-tall, thin and willowy underneath his well-made but austere grey clothes that, if anything, were even more scholarly-looking than Master Nelsin's, especially with the stark black over-robe that looked utilitarian and even clerical in cut. Light freckles stood out against his very pale skin which made her wonder if he wasn't Namornese after all. His hooded eyes reminded her of nothing so much as a sea-hawk and he had almost girlishly long lashes over dark dusky-blue irises. His very straight nose almost rivaled hers for severity and he had a longish face that was a bit too plain to outright be called handsome, though she supposed 'very pleasant' fit him quite well. Topping it all off was his straight, darkest-auburn hair that was, either due to intent or neglect, starting to grow out from his previous shorter hair style and transitioning into something that might be called medium-length.

Tris noted that he had dark circles under his eyes that were probably due to fatigue, considering that he seemed reasonably healthy otherwise. And the combination of his clothes, expression and posture also exuded a dour soberness that could have impressed some of the more ascetic Air Dedicates she knew. She vaguely wondered how someone under thirty managed to seem like an old man, but then remembered her student Keth joking about her being an old lady when she was fourteen and Tris realized almost-thirty wasn't nearly so unlikely a time as barely-a-teenager was to develop an elderly disposition.

Oh, and another thing—he blazed silver in her magical sight. And quite strongly as well, though after a certain point of brightness it was almost impossible to distinguish a moderately powerful mage from a Great Mage, so it was hard to say exactly how powerful he was, and there was always more to magic than raw strength. But his possession of magic meant that if he found out about who she was, then he was that much more likely to be jealous and cruel, just as all the others had been. A critical persona and magical power wasn't exactly a combination that tended to get along well with her.

Tris tried not to frown and give herself away as she thought, Great, how come whenever I meet someone new and interesting to speak to they're never the sort of person that still would want to once they knew the truth about me? The weather mage was aware that she was exaggerating a bit, but still. It never seemed quite fair.

Well, there goes my good mood, Tris thought. I'll just keep the details to myself and hopefully Master Nelsin will too, and maybe he'll leave before I have to put up with a snubbing. This man seemed to be the type that could make her life a misery.

She eyed him distrustfully but the man just gave her a polite smile that didn't appear to hold any negativity, even if it was only distantly friendly. Neither did it brighten up his appearance in any way. She supposed that must be a special talent of his.

You wouldn't be smiling so civil-like if you knew who I was, Tris thought uncharitably. Vaguely, she considered that he must be a student from one of the universities other than Lightsbridge, otherwise he'd have already called her out as she was quite well known there. Oh, but he'd mentioned an apprentice, hadn't he? A relatively new mage, then.

"Look at this one, m'dear—Meraissa Thistle's essays on sovereignty and government. You haven't read it have you? No? Wonderful! Now, you could appreciate this," Master Nelsin said enthusiastically, handing her one of the books from the stack.

She immediately directed her attention to it, considering it was being thrust at her so unceremoniously. Setting down her former considerations, she took it in her hands. Leafing through it, she wasn't altogether surprised that it did look interesting indeed, considering it was recommended by Master Nelsin. She was even able to forgive that it had been previously owned by the stoic mage next to her.

"Oh! And Sogahrdt's Felerose. Delightful book," he said and passed it to her, forcing her to put down the other one.

Taking it, she frowned upon perusing what was inside. "This is fiction. A romance," she said, narrowing her eyes behind her spectacles, her voice colored by disgust. "You know I can't abide that frippery, Master Nelsin. Tales of adolescent drama bore me to tears." Or to violence at the idiots being written about, Tris thought. Or the fool who wrote it to begin with.

"Felerose? 'Adolescent drama'?" said the man who'd previously owned the books they were discussing, his eyebrows raised slightly in surprise and mild amusement at her description. "I don't believe I've ever heard so poignant a criticism—that book is rather highly regarded by the literature community as a masterpiece of political satire."

Tris looked at the book in her hand dubiously, wondering if the 'literature community' had been smoking something of questionable legality when reading the thing. She didn't even have to, to know it was barely tolerable mush.

"Ack! By the gods, where are my manners today!" Master Nelsin exclaimed. "Trisana, dear, this is Heinzenrich. He started loitering around the shop recently, quite a knowledgeable fellow. Haven't found a book worth reading that he hasn't read yet, but I'm still trying. Heinzenrich, Trisana here has been coming to my shop since she was neigh on ten or eleven years old! She's quite accomplished herself. Her thoughts on Cyclida are extremely insightful. Opened my mind to it like nothing else!"

Tris blushed faintly at the praise and the odd introduction he'd given of her. Trust Master Nelsin to introduce people with a description of how well-read they were as opposed to where they were from or their occupations, something more normal, she thought wryly.

The man, Heinzenrich, who she was now a hundred percent certain was foreign because he had a name that certainly did not come from Emelan, held out his hand to her politely. She took it and shook it, feeling a little odd. "It's just Tris," she said while doing so.

"Just 'Tris'? But 'Trisana' has such history attached to it," he said, actually looking a bit disappointed. "It comes from Haidheltic, the root-language of Namornese. It's a variance of the name 'Trizanya,' meaning 'thrice-wise.' There have been queens, empresses and high priestesses with the name or some variation of it."

"Really?" she said surprised, for a moment not disliking the name her neglectful parents had given her quite so much. "I hadn't realized that." Now that she thought of it, there had been a Namornese empress long ago named Trizanya, and a Queen of Olart had shared her own name.

"Heinz is fine for me, however. My name is a bit long to justify using on a regular basis, despite Master Nelsin's insistence on doing so," he told her matter-of-factly and Tris was secretly grateful because 'Heinzenrich' was kind of a mouthful.

She was, however, a little confused that he hadn't mentioned his last name, which would have doubtless been a mage-name. A lot of the mages she'd known, especially at Lightsbridge, tended to throw their mage-name around as much as possible among each other as well as non-mages, showing off. Of course, she hadn't given him her last name, either, but there was a certain stigma associated with her name that she didn't like to follow her. She didn't really know why this Heinz wouldn't give her his, but she supposed she was happy he hadn't, considering she would then have had to name herself as Trisana Chandler, out of politeness, and there were few mages who didn't know her name these days.

"But as I was saying," he said, "Felerose isn't really a romance at all. It's more like a commentary on the Namornese empirical system using allegory. Think of Felerose as the Namornese nobility and Marranque as the Emporer or Empress and you should understand the parallels."

"No, I don't think so," she told the fellow, trying not to sound as rude about the rejection as her feelings warranted. Tris really didn't want to read this book. She hated romantic fiction. Stories about fantasy people having silly relationships and running around crying about things that hadn't happened, didn't exist, and wouldn't have been such a big problem even if they had—-she couldn't stand them. That being so, this Felerose certainly wasn't the sort of thing she found interesting. And on top of that, Tris was still a bit biased against anything about Namorn, considering how terrible her visit had been four years ago. The two sour feelings combined to make it all but a forgone conclusion that she would not willingly spend her money on this thing.

"Well, that's too bad," he said, sounding more thoughtful than offended. "It can be a lovely read, even disregarding the extra angle."

"Agreed. Though a bit depressing at the end, I must say," Master Nelsin added with a nod.

Heinz chuckled wryly at this. "Well, most things involving Namorn are a bit depressing at the end, not just their books," he said with a sardonic droll. Trisana couldn't help but flash a quick smile at the statement: it was certainly the truth as far as her experiences went.

Despite her declination of Felerose, by the time Master Nelsin and Heinz were done shoving books at her, she had a stack of eight; waymore than she could possibly justify buying at one time. And on top of that, she was worse off than before she'd been called over—now she had eight books she had to choose from instead of three!

Oh, this is so difficult, she thought irritably, narrowing her spectacled eyes at the pile of volumes in front of her. She wished she could buy all of them, but her budget couldn't quite stand up to eight books, not to mention she wouldn't have enough pocket money on her to pay for all of them andthe rest of the things she had to buy today. Once her business was running she'd have cash to spare for the occasional indulgence such as this, but right now she was really watching herself. Two was all she'd allow herself, maybe three.

Looking over her choices, she decided she could live without the book on rainforests; she'd read some like it before, and this one didn't seem different enough to be worth her while compared to the rest. Similarly she decided to discard a book on Haidheltac and another on the gods of Kurchal—as interesting as the subject was, she'd read, and even owned, other books on the subject and if she could only pay for two or three of these, she wanted something new. Looking at the remaining five, she was still wavering, unable to decide.

"Having a hard time deciding?" she heard, and looked up from her contemplation to find Heinz watching her intense scrutiny of the remaining manuscripts like a curious bird might watch a human from a tree branch. After giving his two bikson the books suggested to her by Master Nelsin, he had gone off to make his own rounds in the shop, seeming to be quite familiar with what was there and what was new. He now had two large books under his arm, one whose binding was almost disintegrating and another that looked fresh off the press. She was slightly insulted at the fact that he seemed to think she needed this man and his 'literature community's opinions when it came to books. Tris would read what she liked, not what some collection of old fuddies thought people ought to like.

"Not really," she lied to him and went back to her books, trying to make a decision fast; the weather mage still had things to do today and she had already spent way too much of the day in here. At this rate she wouldn't have time tonight to start reading her selections at all, because she'd be out until late just running her errands.

He approached her anyway, and Tris had to reassess her thoughts concerning his height—she'd figured he was about as tall as Briar, but seeing him now, he towered over short frame even more than her brother did. That, along with something of a slight hitch to his posture as if his back bothered him from working bent over a desk for long hours, made him more like just over six feet than Briar's five foot nine inches. Frankly, it made her feal like he was looking down on her more than just literally.

Heinz seemed to be considering something before he came to a decision and said. "If I might venture my humble opinion…."

Humble my butt, she thought acerbically. She got the impression that he was something of a know-it-all, what with chatting with Master Nelsin and throwing out titles and authors so casually and showing off his books; she was beginning to find him quite trying.

"I highly suggest this one," the man said, surprising her by pointing at the book on Cehrokoe Myths; she'd have thought he would point to one of the books previously owned by him. "Wonderful read," he went on, "not only are the Cehrokoe tribes-people's myths just fascinating in themselves, Reija Sicklemoon is a masterful translator and writer, as well as providing very insightful commentary." Sighing mournfully, he added, "It's quite terrible that she'll never write anything else, I rather enjoy all of her work. Her essays are quite marvelous as well."

Tris blinked. "Never write anything else? What do you mean?" she asked, curious despite herself.

Heinz looked a little uncomfortable for a moment, as if he found it difficult to discuss the subject. Lowering his voice and leaning in for no reason that Tris could tell other than apprehension about the subject, he whispered to her, "It's rather terrible, really. She died on the western continent about a year ago. Survived the black bog fever, but apparently the tribe she was living with and studying at the time—I believe in was the Sinoe, not entirely certain of that, however; there are literally hundreds of different tribes, no two the same—was attacked by an enemy tribe and she was killed." He shook his head pityingly. "That's the worst luck; only about one in three survive the fever without treatment, you know, and believe me, it's a horrible experience even when you do manage to. As bad as the Thrashing Sickness, I would expect."

Tris wasn't familiar with either of those diseases but having seen the effects of plague before, she could imagine how horrible one could be. Being ill far from home in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by people who were not your own would be awful, even if one survived.

"You see, there aren't a lot of our healers or temples in the new world, and unless you're personally known to, and allied with, a particular tribe, they're generally more apt to kill you on sight rather than help you, not that I blame them," Heinz continued as Tris listened, fascinated. "Us easterners keep trying to conquer them left and right; naturally they're hostile towards all of us. And they generally can't tell the difference between Anderran conquistadors, eastern pirates, Living-Circle missionaries and Lightsbridge expedition teams, the first two of which would gladly slash them up and steal all they have, but the others would much rather exchange information and resources to the benefit of all concerned."

He sighed gravely. "I don't really see that changing any time soon, either. There's a great deal of turmoil going on over there, even in the mostly-settled regions. I suppose it's not that surprising that she died as she did, though it is tragic. But she didmanage to print this book, even working so far away as she was. It's very difficult to get anything published from overseas. It's truly enchanting, as I said. I have a few favorite tales in here. The one about Rokoa All-Born is my favorite, I must say. He had ten mouths and ten eyes. Everything a particular mouth said or eye saw was lies and illusions unless one combined them, and then it was always the absolute truth. According to Sicklemoon, the tale is a representation of how people have different perspectives, all of which taken together provide the purest representation of reality."

Tris had to grudgingly agree that that did sound incredible. Well, the man might be a bit of a show-off, however unaware of it, but he seemed to know his stuff, so she supposed that was forgivable. Maybe he just reallyliked books. Maybe. She was still skeptical.

Okay, that's it, I'm definitely getting this one, Tris decided, setting the book aside. Frowning at the remaining four, she sucked up her pride for a moment, eyeing the dark-haired foreigner dubiously before asking, "What's your opinion on these other four?"

Heinz was quite happy to give her a brief commentary on each of the books, many of which were previously owned by him, and give her a general impression of what to expect, which helped her figure out which were perhaps not to her taste, as well as give her an idea of how likely the books were to still be in the shop when she next came. She ended up adding the first book Mr. Nelsin had handed her to her chosen pile which, if Heinz was to be believed, was not only interesting and informative, but had quite a cynical, humorous authoress that could keep anyone entertained, no matter the subject. She was having so much difficulty deciding on a third and final book that she just chose to do without; two were enough for Tris to read for now.

"If I end up hating these books, I know who to blame," Tris joked, as she made her final decision. Well, mostly it was a joke.

"You won't hate them," Heinz said in a tone that verged on the smug, nodding at his own words, sounding completely confident of his statement. Overconfident, she would say.

Tris frowned at him, not liking the sound of anyone who she'd only just met making assumptions about her. Especially this mage of unknown origins whose personality seemed to practically embody the archetype of her most spiteful peers. "And if your wrong?" she couldn't help saying, mostly just to be contradictory.

"I'm never wrong when it comes to books," he stated with extreme severity, a hand on his chest and prideful air to his voice, as if they were talking about something much more grievous than the possibility of being mistaken about someone's literature preference. He seemed to find the very idea that he might be wrong to be simply impossible.

Tris frowned. Everyone was wrong sometimes.

"We'll see, I suppose," she told him skeptically. She wasn't so much skeptical of the books as she was of the person recommending them. She didn't entirely trust anyone's opinion but her own when it came to literature; not since Sandry shoved a sappy romance at her and wouldn't let Tris put it down until she'd undergone the tortuous experience of reading the entirething. And then Sandry had the gall to squeal about it afterwards. Ugh.

Heinz narrowed his eyes at her measuringly. "How about this," he said finally, and Tris was immediately on her guard. "If you don't like them, tell Master Nelsin and he'll arrange for me to pay for two replacement books of your choice. That is fair, yes?"

"W-what?" Tris stuttered, taken aback by this sudden development. She eyed him suspiciously. "Why would you do that?"

"My proficiency in the choice of literature has been challenged," he explained with all seriousness, holding up a finger as if lecturing her. "All challenges must be met with the appropriate response."

Tris raised a contemptuous eyebrow. "Where in the world could a bet like that be the appropriate response to a challenge?"

"A dark, cold speck of nowhere in the far north called the Norsringr Republic, as my apprentice would say," he answered, cocking his head as if reminiscing about his homeland. "She found it quite abysmal when I dragged her up there for a visit. I'm told most everyone else on the continent finds it equally atrocious a place to travel. I suppose it's all the snow and the lack of sunlight for three months out of the year, but that's just a working theory; haven't done any research on it."

Tris rolled her eyes at the man's humor, which seemed to run towards witticisms rather then her own preference for the dry delivery. She'd heard of the Norsringr Republic, of course, and knew where it was—on the north-eastern coast of the Sith, nestled against the northern border of the Normanese Empire, to whom they were allied and practically annexed. She'd never been there and she'd only met a few people who had. They exported a lot of fur, whale bone, whale oil, and mined silver there, but she didn't know much else. If rumor was to be believed, most of it's residents were a bit mad. But then people said the same thing about the Emelanese.

Tris snorted. "If such a ridiculous thing is considered 'the appropriate response' to this situation where you are from, than all Norsringians must be fools. I've never heard of anyone making such a bet over something so small," she said unkindly.

"Fools?" he repeated, apparently not the least bit insulted, which frankly annoyed her. "Not really, it's a result of necessity, you see, that we take every challenge or bet that anyone happens to offer. In Norsringr we really haven't anything better to do than gamble when we aren't falling off cliffs, getting caught in blizzards and drinking ourselves into a stupor with the strongest liquor north of the Emerald Ocean. Or reading, musn't forget reading. But as I haven't had the opportunity to befoul myself in any of the other activities mentioned in quite some time and I am not currently reading, than it's really no surprise that we're having this conversation."

Was I supposed to laugh at that? Tris thought sarcastically. She scowled, her stormy-grey eyes glaring into his smoky-blue ones. "You're teasing me," she suddenly realized. Tris did not like to be teased, least of all by astringent, snooty mages who thought they were the experts on all-things-existing. It felt so much like he was talking down to her. She hated that.

"Only a little," he admitted unrepentantly and she felt like smacking him.

"I don't like to be teased," she spat, adjusting her spectacles as she narrowed her eyes at.

He shrugged. "I don't like my opinion on books to be distrusted," Heinz responded airily. "And so I've presented you with my terms: Two replacement books, if you should find my suggestions to have been unhelpful. However, if you doend up liking them, then I get to chose a book for you, and you have to read it." The finger he pointed at her, as if to drive the point home, was downright mocking. "I'll pay for it, though, of course," he hurriedly added.

"That's ridiculous," she responded immediately, a crease between her brows as she pushed her spectacles higher up on the bridge of her nose.

Books aren't exactly cheap, Tris thought, does he seriously intend to go through with this, considering that he'll have to pay money even if he wins? That's crazy. As a merchant and businesswoman she couldn't possibly see the justification in throwing about coin so flippantly. Nothing about his appearance seemed to indicate that he was rich. Certainly not poor, but as Briar would say, he didn't dress like a bag, either. Maybe he just spent all his money on books and didn't have the time to care about fashion? He seemed to have enough of them to account for such thinking, if the hefty stack he'd sold Master Nelsin was only a small fraction of them.

"It's far from ridiculous to me," he assured her, and he didseem serious about it, even if she couldn't imagine why.

"Well, if you're so determined to throw away money over nothing, then I suppose I'll oblige you." What did she have to lose, really? They would probably—hopefully—never even see each other again, and he'd forget about it within a day, realizing it was all ludicrous.

"Splendid," Heinz said, with a small smile that still managed to be triumphant despite the blandness of his appearance. He held out his hand and she only paused a moment to sigh with annoyance before taking it. They shook hands, sealing the deal. "Now, enjoy your books and look forward to reading what I've chosen for you," he said, and headed out the door before she could do more than frown at him.

"Bit of an odd fellow, but he is interesting," Master Nelsin said from his desk, heartily chuckling at the entire affair.

"That's one way of putting it, I suppose," Tris said dryly.

Author Notes: So that's the first chapter, yes long, I know. The others will probably be a similar size. I hope everyone enjoyed it! The second chapter will be along soonish.