"But young people, they don't understand how many troubles come from the unseen world," he continued, shaking his head. "They insist that all this reason and rationality that's so popular these days proves there is no supernatural, only what the mind can grasp and make plain. 'How about magic?' I ask them, but they tell me magic is also governed by reason. Pah." -Shatterglass


Trisana Chandler sat up in bed, her sleep rudely interrupted by a persistent banging on her door.

"Briar, I swear by Shurri Firesword, I-" The door opened abruptly. Tris, about to singe the top of Briar's hair with a bolt of lightning, stopped just in time. The person who entered was not Briar Moss, as she had expected, or Daja Kisubo, her other housemate and foster-sibling, nor even Sandrilene fa Toren, who was spending the night at 6 Cheeseman St. Tonight was the first time in two months that all four of them were sleeping under the same roof, and Tris had gone to bed that night thinking how nice it was to have her whole family together like they had been in Discipline Cottage six years ago. She was not thinking that now.

"Who are you?" she demanded rudely. "I was sleeping."

"Trisana Chandler?" the white-robed runner gasped. Something in his voice made her freeze.

"Yes?"

"I've a message from Dedicate Lark at Winding Circle," he said. "You and your family are needed there, as soon as possible."

Tris's heart stopped. She didn't even see the novice dash off down the stairs as she began to throw on her clothes. A hundred thoughts ran through her head- Winding Circle? Is Glaki in trouble? Or hurt? Glaki was Tris's young student, who lived with Tris's foster-mother Lark at Discipline. Tris usually visited Glaki every few days, but it had been more than a week since her last trip to Winding Circle. I should have gone on Starsday, she thought, mentally kicking herself as she shoved her mass of thick red braids into a net. I should have, but I was stupid, and now... But Tris didn't want to think about now. She ran to the staircase and hurried down to her waiting friends.


Sandry was the first of the four to be woken when the messenger had run into the house. In her fright, she had ordered her clothes to dress herself and was out in the main room in no time. Lark's in trouble, she thought as she set out fruit and buns, food that could be eaten on the way to the temple city. Maybe she's hurt or... maybe Pasco's in danger, or lost, or... She shivered as she thought of what might have befallen Dedicate Lark, Sandry's teacher in thread magic, or Pasco, Sandry's adventurous student, who was gifted in dance magic. As Sandry worried, Briar stumbled in, his eyes looking bloodshot and round in fright.

"Evvy..." he mumbled as he shredded a fruit bun. "Evvy and Rosethorn and..." he swallowed. "Do you think Lark got news of them? Did something happen to them in the Battle Islands, or..."

"Stop that," a voice from the doorway ordered. A tall black girl with heavily muscled arms stood there, glaring at Briar. "It's idiotic and pointless. You're starting to sound like Zhegorz."

The mention of their slightly mad but true friend, who they hadn't seen in two months, brought Briar to his senses. He stopped and looked up sheepishly at Daja. "Sorry, Daj'," he said. "It's just..."

"I know," Daja said. "But babbling or worrying ourselves sick won't help anything. We'll find out what's happening when we get there."

"I don't know how you can be so level- headed at times like-" Sandry was cut off by a bumping on the stairs. In walked a thoroughly frazzled- looking Tris, wearing rumpled clothes and a stormy expression.

"Took you long enough," Briar told her as Sandry sent a touch of magic at Tris. Her clothes straightened as if they had just been pressed. "Come on, Coppercurls, this is no time to go poking along." Daja looked at Sandry and raised her eyebrows. There was no way to tell that Briar had been close to tears just a minute ago.

"I'd like to see you try and get down faster wearing all this," Tris shook her newly flattened skirt at Briar.

"Lucky me, I don't have to," Briar said wickedly, throwing Tris an apple.

"You-"

"Stop it you two," Sandry broke into the budding battle. "Are we ready to go?"

"Let's ride and see where the trade winds take us," Daja said in Tradertalk. She used her magic to get the metal lock to unlatch and then knocked the door open with the butt of her Trader staff. The four mages walked out to where the horses were picketed. Dawn was still a few hours away, but there was the slightest flush of light on the eastern edge of the sky. Sandry untied her mount and Tris's, then turned to hand the reins to the plump, redheaded weather witch. Tris wasn't there. Frowning, Sandry led the horses to the front of the house. Tris stood there, staring in bleak disbelief into the wind.

"Tris?" Tris didn't move. "Tris!" Briar, Daja! Sandry mind-called. She had no idea what was wrong, and the excitement of the night was getting to her. Sandry tried to shake Tris as Briar and Daja ran around the corner of the house.

What's wrong? Daja asked Sandry through their magic.

I don't know, and she won't budge. Tris!

Tris answered, her mind-voice sounding weak with shock. Come in and look. The other three glanced at each other, then followed their magical ties to Tris to look through her eyes. Sandry felt slightly odd doing it. Although two months had passed since the four had reforged their bonds, they did not enter each other's minds nearly as often as they did when they were children, to respect each other's privacy.

It's all right, Tris's magical voice assured her. Just, look.

All four looked at the air facing the wind. To the other three's amazement, an image shone there, lit by the silvery glint of magic. A man with black and silver hair stood in the middle of a road, waving his arms and shouting. He ripped at his dark blue robe and shook his fists. His face was so red it was almost plum-colored. If anyone could look more furious, Sandry hoped she would never see it. The image blew away, and the four retreated to their own minds.

"Tris!" Briar yelled. "Was that Niko?"

"I... think so," Tris said wearily. She had tears in her eyes. "He was doing something at Winding Circle's library this week."

"Why was he so upset?" asked Daja, leading Briar's horse and her own to the group.

"I don't know, but I've got more'n a hunch that's why we're going on this little trip," Briar said. He mounted up, and the others did the same. Daja, Briar, and Tris spurred their mounts on, but Sandry stayed back.

"Gods above," she whispered. "No matter what happens, keep me and my family safe." Then she turned away from the breaking dawn and rode off into the night.


When the four rode into Winding Circle, the first thing Daja saw was Frostpine, frantically waving at them. That's not good, she mind-called to the others. Frostpine doesn't get upset for anything.

Well, whatever this is has got his bedclothes in a twist, Briar replied. Let's go see. They rode up and stopped in front of the fire dedicate. Briar opened his mouth to speak, but Frostpine beat him to it.

"Thank Shurri and Hakoi, you got Lark's message," he said. Daja, now that she could see him up close, was startled. Frostpine's wild, lion's-mane hair and coal-black skin were the same as ever, but his normally twinkling brown eyes were grim and had bags on bags. In fact, he looked as exhausted as Daja had ever seen him.

"Frostpine, what's wrong?" she asked.

"Lark will explain," he answered. "She can tell it better than I can. You're to meet her at Discipline as soon as possible."

"Then we'll go right away," Sandry cried, turning her horse.

"Wait!" Frostpine said in a controlled shout. Sandry stopped and looked back at him. "You must not let them see you."

"Them who?" Briar asked.

"Anyone not in a temple habit, besides those you know and trust, like Niko. They're the reason for all this commotion."

"About Niko..." Tris began, but Frostpine shushed her.

"I can't answer any questions. I've kept you too long as it is. Go to Lark, but don't be spotted. Got that?" The four young mages nodded. "Go, then." Sandry, Briar, and Tris turned, but Daja hesitated.

"Frostpine?" she said softly.

"I'm all right. Please don't worry about me; it's more important that you get to Lark." He rested his hand on her arm for a second, then withdrew. "Gods go with you."

Daja looked back for a moment longer, then turned to follow her friends.


Briar was waiting with the others behind the carpenters' houses when he realized Daja wasn't with them.

Daja! he called silently. This is no time to go frisking off!

I'm right here, Daja said, appearing around the corner. I think we should leave the horses.

Good idea, Sandry and Tris said together. All four dismounted and tied the horses to the back of the shop as quietly as they could. They understood that even a whisper might be too dangerous now, and spoke only in mind-calls.

If we can get from here to the loom-houses, we should be able to reach Discipline, Sandry said.

But there's nothing but air between here and the closest loom-house, Daja objected. We'd be seen crossing the spiral road.

Nothing but air and grass and bushes, Briar reminded them. Leave that part to me. He smiled to himself. Tris, can you tell if there's anyone around the corner for the next 50 feet or so?

Why is it always me? Tris said grumpily. She pulled a breeze braid from her net of them and undid a quarter of it. Her breeze raced around the corner, and she followed it to see if it touched anything that moved. One person. They seem to be guarding the road. Tris retrieved her wind. Now what?

I can do this part. Sandry's mind-voice seemed to come out of nowhere. Before Briar could ask how her nobleness could make a guard evaporate into thin air, Sandry pulled a thread from her pocket and tied two knots in it. There was a muffled thump. Briar peered around the corner. A man lay by the side of the road, bound from head to foot in cloth. He was even gagged by strands of his own shirt.

Call me impressed, Briar told Sandry. I couldn't do it that fast.

I've had lots of practice. Now, how are you going to get us across the road?

You'll see. Briar closed his eyes and slowly counted to seven. Then he reached with his power toward the grasses and bushes on the side of the road by the loom-houses. They answered his call, eager to help their friend. He got them to put out longer leaves and branches, then called the greenery toward him. They bent across the road like a green snake. When his barricade was four feet tall, he thanked the plants and let them go. From a distance, it would look like the road dead-ended into a hedge.

Think we can hide behind this? he asked the girls.

Not for long, Daja said. If someone comes and sees that thing up close, they'll know something's up.

I'm two steps ahead of you, Daj'. Let's get going. He stepped with the air of the thief he had been out from behind the building, ducking so he couldn't be seen above the green barrier. Sandry came next, then Tris, then Daja. After the girls were safely behind the loom-house, Briar called the plants back to their original positions.

"Thank you," he whispered to them. They quivered in reply.

Come on! Tris's magical voice was both impatient and worried. You can talk to your precious plants later.

And you say I have bad manners. At least I can tell a mate I'm grateful, he mind-called back to her as he got up. Keeping to the shadows behind the loom-houses, he caught up with the others just as they reached Discipline.


Sandry ran for the door and, without bothering to knock, led the way inside- or, at least, attempted to. As soon as she crossed the threshold, a wave of familiar magic encased her, binding her from head to foot in her own clothing.

Now we know where she gets it from, Daja remarked silently. For an answer, the hems of the former Trader's breeches began to come apart.

"Lark?" Tris called. A woman with a cat-like face and a green habit appeared around the corner.

"Thank all the gods you four made it," she said. Instantly, Sandry's clothes released her. "Sorry about that, San-" she was cut off by a wild, furry, barking cannonball streaking past her toward the four.

"Little Bear!" they all cried. Tris knelt to stroke the dog they'd grown up with.

"Glaki-" Lark called, then stopped. The three current residents of Discipline Cottage, Glaki, Pasco, and Comas, were all gathered in the back of the room, clearly listening.

"Well," Lark continued. "I need all of you to go into one of the attic rooms, take Little Bear with you, and NOT EAVESDROP." Her harsh tone, so unlike normal days, cowed even Pasco. He waved at Sandry, Glaki smiled at Tris, and all three turned and went upstairs, shooing Little Bear ahead of them.

"You know, you used to do that to us," Briar said. Lark half-smiled, but it quickly faded. She looked worn to the bone. Sandry wondered when she'd slept last.

"Lark, what's going on?" Sandry asked. "Why did you send for us?"

"And why'd we have to sneak past a bunch of bleaters to get here?" Briar added.

"What's wrong with Niko?" Tris broke in. Lark held up her hand for silence. The four instantly gave it to her.

"Niko is the reason I asked for you to come here. I-"

"Niko?" Sandry interrupted.

"Let me begin at the beginning," Lark said. "A lot has happened in the Circles since you left last spring. To start with, Honored Dedicate Mothwing died."

"The leader of the Mother Temple in Gyongxi?" Tris asked, stunned.

Lark nodded. "She was killed by raiders from the Yanjing army." Sandry glanced at Briar. He stared straight ahead, without a glimmer of emotion on his face. "The temple eventually beat them off, but... anyway, she was replaced by Honored Blackstar, who has, well, a different way of running things."

Something tells me that's not good, Daja said silently. Sandry agreed.

Lark continued, "He's developed a new theory called science, based on reason and logic, he says." She made no attempt to hide the disgust in her voice. "According to 'science', magic is wicked, a cheat, and true learning comes from picking apart the natural world."

"I don't understand," Daja said.

"Well, for example, according to science, when you start a fire by magic, you aren't really using magic. You're using the heat from your body to create a chemical reaction in the wood until it ignites."

The four younger mages just stared at her.

"The idea has become quite popular, especially among non-mages," Lark went on. "Hundreds, maybe thousands of Blackstar's supporters have joined to form the Coalition for the Promotion of Science. Three months ago, the Coalition overran the Mother Temple in Gyongxi. It appears they used force, though no one's been able to prove it. All the Council says is they've come to see the value of Blackstar's work and all temples are now required to have science classes for all their students."

"And didn't the temples say no?" Sandry cried.

"Most agreed. The ones that didn't have been attacked, their councils deposed, and made to obey. Blackstar has been working his way west, either convincing or forcing the temples to accept his views. As it happens, Winding Circle is the last major teaching temple that hasn't fallen." Lark sighed. "Until tonight."

"Why didn't we hear about this in Namorn?" Tris demanded.

"It's been kept very close to the Circles, per Blackstar's orders," Lark explained. "Even His Grace didn't know until this week."

Tris, Briar, and Daja immediately looked at Sandry. Did you know? Briar asked through their magic.

No! Uncle didn't say a thing about it. she retorted. Daja and Briar exchanged grins. The noble's mind-voice sounded miffed.

Tris, however, had other things on her mind. "What's this got to do with Niko?"

"Well, in a few cities, Science Cities, some call them, mages are already thought of as unprincipled and of low status, no matter how powerful they are. Niko visited one. Not only that, but after the Coalition has the Circles in hand, they intend to march on Lightsbridge and install science there. That, plus the fact the whole idea is just plain wrong, has... driven Niko over the edge."

What does that mean? Briar asked Tris through their connection.

It means he's lost control. And when a mage as powerful as Niko loses control... Tris's mind-voice wasn't exactly scared, but there was a note of calm horror in it that sent shivers down the other three's spines.

Lark, seeing they understood, said, "That's what I've called you all here for. I'm hoping the four of you- especially you, Tris- can calm him down, or, shall we say, otherwise persuade him enough to prevent a catastrophe."

Does she realize she just asked us to threaten Niklaren Goldeye? Sandry asked the others.

At least it's a cracknobbed Niklaren Goldeye, said Briar.

Do you think that makes it better? Daja demanded. Trader and Bookkeeper defend us if something goes wrong.

Sandry looked up and met Lark's eyes. "We'll do it."

Lark sighed. "Thank you. I hoped you would, for I truly don't know who else-"

A resounding boom split the air and the cottage shook. A trio of squeals came from the staircase, as well as a furious barking. As they ran from the cottage, Briar asked Daja, How much do you think they heard?

If they're anything like us, she replied, every word.

Only you two would joke at a time like this, Sandry said. She was up ahead with Lark, sprinting through the dark toward the noise. They ended up at Winding Circle's central garden, near the Hub and the beginning of the spiral road. All five of them gasped. A giant hole where an outdoor altar had once stood was still smoking. Niko looked exactly as he had in their vision, more wild and angry than they had ever seen. He was yelling incoherently at a group of five men. Four were armed, and one wore a yellow habit with a striped black and gold border. Sandry thought that must be Honored Blackstar. The mages approached the men warily, as if Niko was a cannon that might explode.

"Why can't you filthy people understand that this is foolish and destructive?" Niko spat, not looking back toward Lark and the four.

"My dear man," said Blackstar calmly, his voice oily and smooth, "science is the opposite of foolishness, and far less destructive than your magic." His voice turned 'magic' into 'midden'. "It's carefully regulated and proven-"

Niko cut him off with a suggestion so foul Briar whistled. Tris moved forward and put a hand on her mentor's shoulder, and Niko spun as if she had shocked him. For a moment, Sandry thought she actually might have, but then Niko yelled, "Trisana, I don't know why you're here, but you need to leave right now. I don't-"

"Niko, please, you've got to calm down," Tris said, eyes worried. "You can't lose control like this-"

"Do not tell me what I cannot do, Trisana! These people must be stopped, for everybody's good."

"But this isn't the way to do it, Niko," Sandry said, stepping up behind Tris. Daja and Briar followed. "You need to calm yourself, before something bad happens."

"Sandrilene, step back if you know what's good for you," Niko said, a dangerous note in his voice. She swallowed but held her ground.

"Niko, if you don't relax, you are about to find yourself in a nice, comfy cage, without your magic," Briar said. "We've learned a few tricks up in the North."

"I will not accept threats from a boy, Briar Moss! These" -another curse- "people will-" Niko stopped, too furious to speak.

"You see, Goldeye, even your pupils are against you." Sandry had almost forgotten Blackstar was there. "They see the future for what it really is, an era of reason and-"

"They know nothing of the future!" Niko roared. "Do you want to see the future? Here's the future of your gods-cursed science!" To all four young mages' eyes, Niko suddenly glowed with a fierce white light.

Gods help us, Sandry prayed. But that was her last coherent thought, for as a sickening crack split the air, she fell to the ground, unconscious.