Read An Excerpt

She was pressed—jammed, really—into a corner formed by chunks of stone. Someone’s knee poked into her thigh on one side. Someone else’s foot dug into her calf on the other. There were four of them, and a dog, trapped in a bubble in the ground. The first part of an earthquake was just fading, and the rest about to roll over them like high tide pounding the harbor walls.

Sweat poured down her cheeks and back. Half turning, she thrust her hands palm-flat on either side of a crack between the stones. Calling to the power inside her, she sent her magic through the gap. Earthwaves were coming her way, small ones in front, bigger ones behind. Their force heated dirt and stones, spreading everywhere. Her bones felt like huge rocks, pressed together so hard that something would have to give. They would slip alongside one another with a crash, forcing buildings and streets and whole cities into new shapes.

And the heat, the earth’s heat was cooking her and the friends whose bodies pressed against hers. The hot waves roared through the ground, gaining strength as they traveled. When they hit, she could choose between being roasted or crushed: the earth around her small hollow would clench like a fist—

Trisana Chandler lunged out of bed, throwing off the thin sheet that had been her only covering, jumping for her open window. Dangling half out of it, she gasped in the open night air. She was aboveground, in her attic room in Discipline cottage, at Winding Circle Temple in Emelan. The earthquake was ten days gone, and she and her friends had lived to talk about it.

But the heat! No wonder she dreamed of it still, with the air dead around her. Every door and window in the attic was open, but not a breath of air stirred under the thatch. It was scarcely cooler outside.

Voices reached her ears on the tiny puffs of air that did touch her. Once she’d thought the voices meant that she was going crazy. Now she knew they were only pieces of real conversations that took place somewhere, carried to her by the wind. It still made her a little nervous to hear them, although they spoke mostly of everyday things.

“Aymery Glassfire, I am impressed.” The prissy and dry-voiced speaker was a man unknown to Tris. The name “Aymery” pricked her—she had a cousin Aymery, but his name was Chandler, not Glassfire, and he was hundreds of miles away, at the university in Lightsbridge. Aymery was a common name. “The learned men who wrote these letters give you praise indeed. I could no more refuse to allow you the use of our library than I could fly.”

Tris shook her head, trying to get that voice out of her ears. To be hot and bored was just plain too much!

The simple act of moving captured a fresh puff of air, drawing it close. “Novice Jaen, how could you allow our stores of bandages to fall so low?”

“But—Dedicate Willowwater—I didn’t know I was to check the other storage rooms—and so many bandages were needed after the earthquake—”

“Oh, don’t cry, girl. We’ll have to contrive something, quickly.”

“The foretellers don’t expect more trouble, do they?”

“When we’re out of bandages, who needs to read the future to know more trouble will come?”

Tris growled. Magic was supposed to be grand and powerful, not a question of the contents of linen closets! Sticking her fingers in her ears, she rubbed fiercely. When she stopped, the voices were gone and she was hotter than ever.

Somewhere in the hazy, dark blur in front of her weak eyes was the twenty-foot-high wall that enclosed Winding Circle. From its top, she might catch a real breeze.

Tris stripped off her nightgown and yanked her lightest cotton dress over her head. Once it was on, without regard for her dress or the floor, she grabbed her water pitcher and dumped its contents on her head. For a few blessed moments she was cooler.

Groping under her bed, she found her leather slippers and jammed her feet into them. Unwilling to wrestle with her sopping red curls, she tied a scarf around her head, so at least her hair would be off her neck. Last of all, she groped on her dresser top for her brass-rimmed spectacles. Jamming these onto her long nose, she headed for the door and yelped with surprise. One of her housemates stood there, leaning on the frame. In the shadows, the black girl was almost invisible until Tris was right on top of her.

“It’s the strangest thing,” the newcomer commented softly. “You’re bat-blind without those spectacles, but you know where everything is, so you don’t even need a candle to get dressed.”

“You could have made a noise, Daja,” grumbled Tris.

Her housemate ignored her. “Someday the boy’s going to decide to joke with you and move everything while you sleep. Then where will you be?”

“Better ask where he’ll be if I catch him,” retorted Tris. “And don’t you go suggesting it to him, either. Why are you still up?”

Daja Kisubo raised her hands and stretched her solid body as high as she could. If she stood tiptoe, her fingers almost touched the top of the door frame. Younger than Tris by almost a year, she was still a hand’s length taller than the redhead’s four feet and seven inches. “He doesn’t need my help coming up with pranks,” she replied, her lilting voice dry. “He’s got too many ideas of his own. Why get dressed?”

“It’ll be cooler on top of the wall. Maybe Lark will let me go there for a while.”

“How do you know it will be cooler?” Daja inquired.

“Am I the weather-witch around here or not?” Tris demanded irritably, hands on hips. “I know.”

“Wait, then.” Daja turned and entered her own room, just across the attic.

Tris grumbled, but followed the other girl to lean against her open door. Daja’s room already had light of a sort from a candle set on the family altar in the corner. Daja changed to breeches and a shirt and shook out her various short braids. Slipping her feet into sandals, she blew out the altar light, then followed Tris downstairs.

It wasn’t all that late. One of the women in charge of Discipline was still awake, writing a letter. She wore only an undyed cotton shift as she worked—her Earth-Temple-green summer habit was tossed carelessly over the table. Like Daja, she was dark-eyed and dark-skinned, though her skin was a lighter shade of brown. She wore her glossy curls cropped short; they fanned out to frame an almost catlike face with broad cheekbones and a pointed chin. As late as it was, as hot as she was, she still gave the two girls a smile, which they returned. Even Tris, with her moods and her temper, liked Dedicate Lark.