Sylvie had to decide what to do with an entire afternoon without any classes or duties.
She could continue melding splinters back into the door frame, for practise.
Or she could try to get a handle on light. Since that instruction started, she must have spent days in a room that had been darkened apart from a narrow beam of sunlight, trying to sense it like she could feel the inner structure of plants. The light had wandered slowly, slipping through her fingers. A tickle of finest cobweb on the back of her hands had seemed like a start, but that had been the slight warmth of the air, not light directly.
Of those who started with those practises around the same time, she seemed to be the only one who made no progress. Cassar was able to create a glow, and Guméi was already building small things from lines of light.
At least Guméi isn’t making fun of me.
Tired of failing the same thing over and over, she decided to try something else.
Guméi was distracted by some of her own work, and let Sylvie borrow her silver brooch without asking what she wanted it for. Maybe she assumed her friend wanted to go out.
Instead Sylvie retreated to her room, a nook tiny enough she didn’t have to share, and settled down for her experiment.
The brooch – a stylized gull – was already warming in her hands. She let the impression of it, the weight, the shape, the glint of light fill her mind, crowding out apprehension. When she reached out her feelers, her magic sense, the metal felt startlingly cold again. Good. Not a pleasant feeling, but a promising sign. It decided her to push through the discomfort, for as much detail as she could absorb.
Eventually the sound of voices pulled her back to herself. More or less. She was shivering all over. The memory of being in an ice cold place that was the same in all directions faded like a dream, but left her disoriented. While her mind cleared, coming up with the thought that part of the problem was that she was lying down rather than sitting up, she registered he anger in the voice she heard.
One of the elder students was berating Guméi. My fault. This is wrong!
Sylvie tried to sit up. It got the tutor’s attention. She hunkered down to steady Sylvie, who leaned her back against the wall and curled up best as she could. She’d never felt so cold.
“Here, what were you up to?” The tutor was as angry as worried.
When she tried to answer, Sylvie’s teeth chattered too much to talk. She looked around for the brooch, but couldn’t see it. The tutor held it up.
“I’ve got this. You understand me, yes?”
“Well, questions have time until you’re back to normal.” She turned to Guméi. “Here, give a hand.”
They helped Sylvie to her bed to rest. Shaken and chilled she felt like she could hardly think. It would be horrible if her closest friend would be blamed for her mistake. She wanted to explain and apologise.
With the other two silent, she noticed the tittering and whispering outside her room. And more mockery on top of it.
When left alone, Sylvie tried to concentrate on her breath, to help her relax into sleep, but fears of what would be waiting for her when she woke up circled in her head like rats in a barrel.