I've had this idea for a long time, but I've never quite wanted this project to turn into half a novel. This story is an experiment in formatting, for me, because I'm planning to tell it through a series of very closely-linked oneshots. It's similar to a fifty-sentences story, except that this involves multiple short snippets. This will let me update much more quickly.

I will give more detailed background information later. For now- this story begins when Daine is sixteen, with the first diplomatic overture between Carthak and Tortall.

The Emperor's Mage
Chapter One: Threat

Lindhall Reed's knuckles were pale from his grip on the ship's railing. He had a written guarantee of safety from the emperor, but that would easily be broken if Ozorne thought he had more to give. Even his debt to King Jonathan had not convinced him to leave Tortall and the safety of Corus. It had been for his favorite student, for the girl who could win a peace between Tortall and Carthak through her famous knack with animals.

Daine, at least, was unruffled by the prospect. She had been promised time away from the negotiations, and she was confident in her abilities to heal the emperor's birds. She stepped easily along the deck, a hand steadying the medicine kit at her hip. "Lindhall? The sailors would like all the land folk in their cabins while we come into port."

He stared toward Carthak, finding the tower of Ozorne's palace in the distance. "You must promise me, Daine," he said roughly. "You will be polite, but will play the part of a demure maiden and insist on a chaperone at all times. You will make eye contact with the emperor only if necessary, and will make sure that healing the birds seems extremely difficult. Most of all…"

"I will have no willing association with Arram Draper," Daine said quietly, barely moving her lips. "I promised you, Lindhall. You have my word."

"I trust your word, Daine. I don't trust their intentions. Arram will be able to see your power by looking at you, and he knows far more about wild magic than I. I taught him the basics, but he devoured the few treatises available and wrote several of his own." He ran a hand through his thinning hair, his eyes fixed on the shore ahead of them. "You know how to escape, Daine. No matter what you hear, you will return to Tortall post-haste if I give the order, your life is in danger, or you feel that you are trapped."

Daine nodded, still keeping her patience. "I don't understand why I'd be so important, Lindhall, but I'll try. You're making me fair nervous."

"I would prefer you to be nervous, Daine. This is a very dangerous place, especially for a student of mine."

"I know all the rules," she assured him. "Onua talked with me about the whys before the Riders put on the sending-off party."

He smiled at Daine, who still looked confused that so many people would care so much. "You, my dear student, are the strongest wildmage I have ever encountered. You do know to check in with Alanna?"

Daine shifted, her first sign of impatience. "I'm not a child, Lindhall. You remembered to give me all those lovely books for my sixteenth birthday."

"Of course I give you books, student of mine, you devour them. The library can't hope to stock enough volumes about animals. Besides, I plan to benefit greatly from my investment. I'll write all sorts of treatises about wild magic, thanks to you."

"I know, I'm interesting for my magic," Daine teased. Normally, he would have been ready for a mock debate, but when he turned to look at her he looked almost desperate. This was no time for fun. "Alanna and I checked the wards around my magical core yesterday, before we were in range of the Carthak spells that see magic. If I feel the madness slipping in again, I go straight to her. If someone interferes with her spells, she'll know."

Lindhall stared over the ocean again. "Alanna and I can only conjecture, but we believe Arram would have been the match for her twin. Ozorne and Arram together are a force to be reckoned with."

"So're King Jon and Alanna. I have all of The People within ten miles, and even more that that with all this lovely cool saltwater about," Daine said practically. "We'll be fine, Lindhall. Alanna's never found a way to block me from my powers."

"Aside from knocking you upside the head."

"Did you see how Cloud reacted? Ponies don't care about staff practice, Lindhall, and that was with someone they trusted. I'm one of the People, and I'll have allies wherever I go." She tugged at his arm firmly. "Alanna said you'd do this, you know. I'd go off to talk to some new gulls, and come back to find you like this. Mooning about at ship railings, figuring out how the world could end… You said you'd show me how to make the tea for Alanna's seasickness. I don't think she wants to be green when meeting the emperor."

"Good deduction. We can make that in her quarters, if we stop to requisition a few supplies from the cook first."

"You're not old, Lindhall." Daine pulled him away from the railing, and slipped her hand into his when he finally turned away from Carthak. "You only act it sometimes."

Lindhall squeezed her hand, then they walked together to the ship's galley. She was a mature, thoughtful, and clever girl. Arram would not have the chance to fool her.