When her fabric magic class began. Ayan was unsure of her teacher. Mr. Depping was tall and frail looking, with white curls and a slightly bent back. His Faraday shirt was off-white and ill-fitting. His orange and white tie was smudged with dirt, and his trousers were wrinkled with tattered hems. Worst of all, the coarse fabric from which his clothes were made grated in her ears. Ayan had never been wealthy, but she had bartered with the local Xurugwi temple for cotton, linen, and sometimes satin scraps that she could piece together. Surely, Mr. Depping's salary was enough that he could have bought something better than canvas to wear.
"Fabric artists may seem like wizards of humble origins," his voice wavered slightly with age. "But they are no less powerful. A good fabric wizard is not flashy the way a fire or weather wizard is, but with careful practice and training, they can stop the actions of both. The actual art of fabric magic lies in the creation process itself. Every act, from the type of fabric, to the type of thread, to the way in which you cut and piece things together, can alter the effect. Other wizards work spells. You create them."
There was something uplifting about his words, even if he was staring right at her. Ayan had always known this within her--that the real magic was in the sewing, not the tools that made it easier. Mr. Depping continued to talk about theory. The class clearly would be a lot of work. They would have to learn about different stitches, colors, fabrics, and how all of these things contributed to magic. But Ayan had expected no less. And this was what she had dreamed of--what she had been afraid to dream of when Audeni had first suggesting sending her to Faraday.
"Miss," the servant curtsied when she saw Ayan. "We thought you were gone."
Ayan shook out her black tresses. She had worn them in braids all the day before so they could look crimped and glossy today. "I had to return early. There is a much more important matter I need to attend to, at the Florarovan court."
"Of course, Miss." The servant bobbed again as Ayan swept past her, the velvet dress barely rustling. Ayan had wondered if she had done overboard in the fancy department, but so far, the household had bought it.
When she walked into Audeni's bedchamber, she stopped for a moment and let herself bask in the finery. Velvet curtains hung in the windows and the quilt on top of the bed looked nearly as plush as the rung felt under her feet. Ayan felt like she walked on marshamllows.
Ayan located the chest in which Audeni kept her jewelry. It had strong magical locks, but this was where Leo's special lockpicks came in. They had never failed her before. She snapped open the lid just as the door opened and a young woman walked in. This was no servant. She wore a long, floral dress, traditional among the people of the Bathblast Islands, and her black hair was pulled back in several braids that joined together at the bottom. Her bright green eyes pierced Ayan's illusion as she said, "I hope you're not looking for the same necklace you tried to steal last time."
Ayan paused, her hand on the very same diamonds as Audeni Deneen swept toward her. The first thing she noticed was the box. "Interesting, I'll have our locksmiths improve the spell work on this if any old street urchin can break into it."
Even with Audeni there, Ayan closed her hand around the necklace. "I'm not any old street urchin."
"No. You're not. You're the one who dared to steal from me twice." She took Ayan's chin in her hand. "But the illusion is remarkable. You could be my younger sister. So tell me... why?"
Ayan shook herself out of the princess's grasp. "I'll never get to sew things like this for real. It was my one chance." Of course, she wasn't about to let that chance fail. Ayan thrust her elbow into Audeni's stomach, making her double over and ran the other direction, vaulting over the bed and leaping for the window. At least,t hat had been her plan. But Audeni caught the elbow and spun Ayan around, pinning her arm behind her back. "Your illusion is almost flawless," she said, "almost." She clapped her right hand on Ayan's shoulder On the fourth finger was a ring of green stone, flecked with other colors--the symbol of the royal family and a piece of jewelry made with such strong truth magic that it couldn't be duplicated by Ayan's illusions.
When they reached the end of the period and Mr. Depping dismissed them, Ayan was sad to go. She packed her notebook into her bag slowly, half wondering if this was a dream that would disappear once she left the room. Sure, she had been at Faraday for a day, but until now, she had just been going through the motions, as she had in Audeni's home, while learning Shugbo and how to "act like she belonged at a school for wizards, and not a den of thieves."
"Go to lunch Miss Tyeen," Mr. Depping growled at her as he gathered his own papers. "I expect I will see you this afternoon in my sewing fundamentals class."
Ayan paused as she picked up her bag. "How did you know my name?" It did not occur to her until then that he had not taken attendance when he had come in, nor had he referred to any of his students by name, choosing instead to nod at them when someone raised their hand.
"I believe you are my only student with one hand. Though I do hope you don't intend to put my lessons to work in your old... profession."
"No sir," Ayan said promptly. "I'mma open a tailor's visit." It was only after she said it that she realized he had spoken to her not in Shugbo, but in her native Imk, and that she had responded in kind. But while his accent was Zenxonian, she spoke the lower class dialect of Antarand, which was known for purposely mixing similar sounding words.
"Good. I have no intention of training thieves. Met enough of them already. Now to lunch with you." Mr. Depping showed no sign that he was confused by her dialect.
Halfway to the door, Ayan had another thought. "Sir, if you don't mind my fishing, why you sarcastic like that?" This time, Ayan leaned into the common slang, curious how Mr. Depping would react.
His response proved that he understood Ayan was asking about his clothes. "I suppose for the same reason you talk like that." Then he smoothed out his clothes, as if brushing dirt off them. The fabric adjusted itself. Even the colors became brighter. He stood straight, now dressed in sleek blank trousers with a royal blue coat over a crisp shirt. Even Mr. Depping's eyes seemed brighter now. He looked at least as well-dressed as the king of Antarand, maybe better.
"An illusion." Ayan had never seen a fabric illusion so good that it changed even the sound of the fabric.
"Anyone would be happy to take a class from one of the world's leading experts in fabricraft." He allowed the illusion to settle back in, the colored fading once again from the fabric. "But it's the students who are willing to take a class from old and wrinkled Mr. Depping that I actually want to teach. You should know one of the first lessons in fabricraft is that appearance is not everything."
"So why did you tell me?"
He smiled at her warmly. "Because you asked. Now, as I said before, you ought to go to lunch before your next class starts. I won't have you complaining of hunger in my class this afternoon."
"No sir." Ayan dashed out the door to the cafeteria. The cafeteria was a bit of a mystery to Ayan. It looked ordinary enough--a large open area with numerous round tables for people to sit and eat, with one wall that connected to the kitchen, where a group of students and a couple of adults served meals from behind a counter. It even had the high ceilings which made all the chatter echo and drowned out the sound of fabric. But it didn't smell like a cafeteria. The cafeterias in all her schools in Antarand smelled like day old bakery bread. It had not been an unpleasant smell, but it had been nothing to make your mouth water. In contrast, Faraday's cafeteria smelled like Temple Street during the Feast of Refuge. Antarand's culinary delights were almost as diverse as its population, but the coconut and fish soup served for lunch felt like comfort food. Ayan bent her nose close to the bowl and breathed in deeply before she carried her tray to the table where she had eaten breakfast.
"You look excited," Miriam said when she arrived.
"I just got out of my first fabric class." She took her first bite of soup and savored it. All she needed now was barbecued snails.
"First? You have more than one?" As Mat turned to Ayan, the end of his black braid fell over his shoulder and for a moment, he looked like someone from home, but she couldn't put her finger on who.
"You know hoe you have to take a magic theory class and a practicum?" Ayan asked.
Mat dipped a piece of bread in his half empty bowl. "Yeah. Key and I have channeling objects for magic theory this afternoon."
Ayan split her own bread with the smallest amount of pressure. "Well, when you study fabricraft, you take a class on the fabric magic theory and your practicum is the actual fabric art class. So I have fundamentals of sewing this afternoon."
"So everyone taking the sewing class if learning about fabric magic?" Ayan noticed that Miriam didn't look up when she asked the question, which reminded her of a Danos priest who had come to visit Audeni a few months earlier.
"No," Mat said, "Key's taking the same class."
Key, who had been hotly debating something with Tilli, looked up at the sound of her name. "What?"
Mat waved his schedule at her. "Fundamentals of sewing. Seventh period, right?"
"What about it?" A slice of breadfruit dangled from her fingers.
"Ayan's got it too." Mat tilted his head toward her.
"No offense," Ayan said to him, "but I thought you would be the one to take it. Isn't it normally Thisaazhou men who..." She stopped when she remembered the conversation from that morning. Between the embroidery and their cotton and wool clothing, Ayan had known the siblings to be Thisaazhou as soon as she met them. but if Mat was adopted, he might not follow all of their traditions.
Mat smiled at her. "No offense taken. Key always wanted to learn sewing and embroidery, but her parents weren't too keen on it." Miriam didn't jump at what he said, but she did raise her head, risking the Danos taboo of eye contact.
"I hope it's not too hard." Key returned her attention to her fruit. "I've already got a test at the end of the week."
Tilli threw her hands in the air. "Us too. In Mrs. Theelnin's class."
Mat raised an eyebrow at Tilli. "You're only worried about that because she already doesn't like you."
"How can a teacher not like you?" Ayan asked. She recalled the train ride over. As she recalled the train ride over, she wondered if Tilli's siblings had a reputation. She had never particularly enjoyed teachers greeting her with comments about her brother, even when they were positive.
Mat grimaced. "She yelled at the teacher five minutes into class." He turned to Tilli. "So, considering we came in together, she probably doesn't like me either."
"You want?" Ayan was baffled.
Tilli shook head hard enough that her glasses nudged down her nose. "She was being totally unfair."
Mat looked at the dregs of his soup. "I think I interrupted her."
Tilli folded her arms across her chest. "No. I'm convinced that teachers make things purposely convoluted and she was angry because you had figured it out."
This made Key chuckle, and she told her own story about the weather magic teacher. Then the conversation meandered until Miriam checked her watch. With a glance at Mat to direct the comment, she said, "Do you want to walk to history together?"
"Sure." He grabbed his crutch, which leaned against the wall behind him, and used it to lever himself out of his chair.
"Wait." Ayan downed her juice. "Which history?"
"History of the Major Continent."
"I have that too." Ayan jumped up.
Key put her head in her hand. "I had that class this morning."
Mat glanced at her. "But I'll catch you in channeling objects?"
Key nodded. "Last class of the day. I can hardly wait."
Ayan thought they had left early, but when they got to their class, the room was already full. "This is the biggest class I've had today."
"Well, everyone's got to take a history class," Mat commented. Then he groaned and tried to duck behind Miriam, which didn't work very well, considering how short she was.
"What is it?" Ayan asked, trying to see around him. Another student in the class waved at them. When he turned, Ayan could see that though he wore a Westwood jacket, he had a freshman's black and white tie.
"My roommate." Mat spoke in a hushed voice. "He probably wants us to sit with him."
"Is there a reason we shouldn't?" Miriam turned around, probably trying to figure out why Mat was there.
Mat hesitated, then sighed. "I guess not."
"Why does he have a house jacket?" Ayan asked as they walked in his direction.
"Apparently Faraday runs in the family."
From the soft silken rustle, Ayan, could tell that Miriam tensed, but she said nothing.
The three of them took a seat next to Mat's roommate, whose name was Manfred. Like Miriam, he didn't ask personal questions when he noticed Ayan's nub, though he did ask if she'd like a copy of his notes. "I'm sorry if I'm being forward. I used to be a notetaker for a classmate in Suxad."
Ayan tried to size Manfred up. He wore clothes entirely made of cotton and he'd mentioned Suxad, which meant he was likely of the Vitnu faith, which upheld equality as their founding principle. He also had an easy smile. "I appreciate the offer, but I've got it. I'll tell you what, though. You can help me if my shoes come untied."
Manfred's smile spread wider. "Deal." He offered his left hand and they shook on it. Mat looked on with the air of a jealous girlfriend. He barely spoke during class and left as soon as the teacher dismissed them.
"Did you notice anything wrong with Manfred?" Ayan asked Miriam as they walked out.
"Manfred?" She glanced around as if looking for the taller boy. "I thought it was Mat who was acting strange."
"That's my point. Manfred seemed perfectly nice. So what's Mat got against him?"
Miriam shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I don't understand people very well."
"But you can tell when people are lying."
Miriam tugged on her tie. "That doesn't quickly endear me to them."
Ayan considered this for a moment. If anything, it was Miriam's honesty that she liked most about her roommate, but she supposed other people preferred white lies to Miriam's bluntness.
"Where are you going next?" Miriam asked.
Ayan consulted her schedule. "Actually, this is my recess period. Then I have fundamentals of sewing with Key."
"Me too. Break, that is. I've got Nefralean Literature after that."
"Want to see if we can play lightning ball?"
Miriam shifted her bag on her shoulders. "Actually... I don't really get... lightning ball. I mean, it's not even a ball. It's more like..."
"A giant birdie?"
This time, Miriam did break the Danos taboo. But she didn't just make eye contact, she stared at Miriam like her head had fallen off. "No. It doesn't look like a bird either."
"Not a bird. A birdie. Like what you play badminton with. It's Audeni's favorite sport. Personally, I like lightning ball more. The stakes are higher." She nudged Miriam with her elbow. "I'll teach you. Come on. You've already got the advantage." She held up her nub.
Miriam relented and the girls went to the lightning ball pitch. When they got there, a group was already playing, mostly upperclassmen from Providence House. Ayan explained the game to Miriam as the players batted the ball across five divisions in the circle. "If the ball lands in your wedge, you get a point. But you don't actually want points."
Miriam nodded. "The person with the least points wins."
"That's right. And you can hit the ball however you want to get the ball out of your wedge before it hits the ground, but it's better to hit the round end because the conical half is electrified. One of the players backhanded the cone so the ball flew into the wedge next to him. He winced and shook his hand out.
Miriam frowned at the scene before them. "I don't understand teh run of playing with an electrified object."
"It doesn't hurt that much," Ayan said, "It feels like a bad static shock." Many of the temples in Forgecard Falls had lightning ball tournaments which Leo and Ayan had participated in as kids. She'd had her fair share of shocks.
Ayan didn't have a lot of opportunity these days to play lightning ball, but there was a muscle memory about any sport that reminded her of fabric arts. Just as she had learned to make delicate stitches while hand sewing, good lightning ball players could time their hits perfectly so they went spinning towards the opponents electric side down. She watched as one girl nudged the ball with her elbow, causing it to land on its conical end, just over the line, where it resembled a black anthill. Ayan cupped her hand around her mouth and cheered, impressed by the display.
The girl, one of the purple-clad Providence kids, turned at the sound. "Hey! Do you wanna..." she held up a hand, indicating the pitch, but never finished the sentence. She strode over to them, boots pounding against the concrete, the heavy cotton of her skirt smacking against her bare legs. When she reached them she stood with her feet shoulder-width apart and her hands behind her back. "Have we come to mingle with the commoners?"
Thinking this comment was a reference to her relationship with Audeni Deneen, Ayan was unsure how to respond. Then she realized the older girl had directed her words at Miriam, who again broke the Danos taboo, returning the furious glare. "If that's what I'm doing, I suppose the same must be true for you."
"Wrong. I am mingling with friends. Last I heard, you don't have any of those."
Ayan didn't know the girl, but she was filled with the urged to protect Miriam. She tossed her nub around the other girl's shoulders and said defiantly, "well, I guess you heard wrong." She offered her good hand out. "Ayan Tyeen. Nice to meet you." She had considered making a rude gesture with it instead, but her foster mother, Altiane, had taught her that politeness could often be more scathing.
The girl did not shake hands, though she did glance at Ayan, clearly not worried about making eye contact as Miriam was. Then she turned back to Miriam. "You can tell father there's nothing of interest here. He wasted an application on you."
"I applied here myself," Miriam said through gritted teeth.
"Of course you did." The other girl turned and walked back to the pitch, where the other players waited.
"Come on." Miriam shrugged off Ayan's arm and walked back toward Victoria House.
"Who was that?" Ayan asked as she followed.
Miriam kicked at a pebble on the ground. "My cousin, Jo. We grew up together. Until my uncle disowned her."
"Really?" Ayan glanced back over her shoulder at Jo. "Why?"
Her roommate grimaced. "She was trying to exploit people suffering from the conflict. She kept telling them she would find their lost children and ran off with the money."
Ayan whistled. "Guess I'm not the only criminal here."
Miriam stopped. "She's right, though. I don't have friends." She looked up at Ayan and then looked away quickly.
Ayan put her hand on her hip. "So what I said counts for nothing?"
"I appreciate you sticking up for me, but..."
"But what?" Ayan was not about to let this go.
"But we've only known each other a day. Friends have to know each other longer than that."
"Says who? You have to start being friends at some point, right?" Ayan paused. "You really haven't had any friends before?"
"Not my age..."
Ayan slung her arm around Miriam again. "Well, we're going to change that."