"You're late. Again." Mrs. Danwood looked over her gold rimmed spectacles at Ember. "What is your excuse this time?"
"I had to go change my clothes," Ember said quietly, aware that every eye in the class was on her. "I spilled milk on myself at lunch."
"Careless." Mrs. Danwood sniffed disapproval. "You will stay after school today to make up the missed time. For now, take your seat and write a five hundred word essay on why punctuality is considered the politeness of princes."
Because princes didn't have to fend off thrown meatballs and hexes at lunch. Princes didn't have the word PIG scrawled with pig blood on their lockers. Princes didn't have to keep their mouths shut when they wanted to tell the truth.
But it didn't matter. The Eleanor Maker Academy was not the place where an earth witch with no money, family, or power would ever be safe. It was bad enough that she was on a scholarship because Grandfather Li couldn't afford the outrageous tuition, but at least the other scholarship students had some power. After four years Ember still hadn't learned to touch the inner place of her soul where high magic resided. She could see it in her mind's eye during meditation. She could sense the spark of magic in others, hear the magical heartbeat of the soul when she focused enough, but she couldn't connect her outer self to the inner spark. Sorcery, magic fueled by the soul, was beyond her reach.
She sat at her desk in the corner of the room and quietly scribbled nonsense about being on time while her classmates slipped into prophetic trances. Jennalynn Twell woke with a gasp and shouted that she was going to be in a boating accident. Mrs. Danwood hurried to her side to calm her down. Terran Rih said he saw himself finding a mound of fairy gold in Ireland. His mother was an immortal sorceress who often visited the courts called fey so it wasn't that farfetched. The other prophecies were less enlightening, test grades and scores and one person predicted a Miami Dolphin's win over the Denver Broncos. Several people stopped to write the score down in case there was betting available for the game.
Ember ignored it all. Even if she hadn't spent twenty minutes in the nurse's office waiting for grandfather to bring extra clothes she wouldn't have felt comfortable enough in this crowd to slip into a trance of any kind. She'd probably wake up with a dick drawn on her cheek, or a pig snout on her forehead. Again.
The air cooled around her and she felt the weight of someone's stare, a gaze heavy with magic. She looked up through her eyelashes. Across the room, arms folded across the chest, was the handsomest and cruelest boy in the school: Darius Kendall. Sharp cheek bones, pale hair, deep blue eyes... the scion of the Kendall family had arrived at Maker Academy already well-versed in sorcery. Half the classes he took were ones she'd never even qualify for, let alone pass. He was taking defensive and dueling classes, training to become his clan's enforcer. The Li clan consisted of two people and between her and her grandfather Ember felt confident they might be able to make a blade of grass shiver on a windy day, but no one else was likely to be intimidated. Earth magic was subtle. It was homey magic meant to comfort and sooth. Sorcery was the magic that changed the world.
The bell's sharp ring brought Ember out of her thoughts. Darius was still glaring at her like she was some strange bug.
There was a giggle behind her and a black sharpie floated in the air toward her face. Ember swatted at it with her book. Magic tugged at her book. She pulled back as hard as she could, but the magic pulled harder and the book flew across the room to clatter against the wall.
"Miss Li!" Mrs. Danwood gasped. "Do not throw books in class!"
"I was trying to- " Ember stopped to grab at the sharpie. "Stop it!"
"I just want to fix your makeup," Jennalynn said with a giggle. "Come on, pig. I saw it in a prophecy trance. You're going to have a snout on your face when you walk home."
Most the class laughed.
Darius stood up. "Enough."
The sharpie burned cold in Ember's hand. Pain made her let go and it dropped to the ground, shattering like glass when it hit the floor.
"Come on, Jennalynn," Darius said. "Let's get to the beach. I want to see the new bikini you bought." He held his hand out for Jennalynn but his eyes were looking at Ember, two cursed sapphires trying to burn her soul away.
Mrs. Danwood ushered the other students out. When she came back she looked down her nose at Ember. "You shouldn't pick fights with the other students. It reflects very poorly on your family and upbringing."
"I didn't do anything to Jennalynn," Ember protested.
"If that were the case I am certain Miss Twell wouldn't have bothered you. She's a very sweet girl. Not as talented as some, but vastly superior to you. I know even jumped up dirt witches need a basic education in magic, but sometimes I wonder if you couldn't have gotten enough instruction for your limited talent from a few weeks of summer camp. You've wasted four years of scholarship money." Mrs. Danwood shook her head in quiet outrage.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Danwood. If anyone had asked me I would have chosen another school." Any other school. One with metal detectors and gangs and dropouts. A place where she'd be judged by her mixed racial heritage rather than her magic. This was Miami, being mostly Korean and Jamaican made her one of the cool exotic girls in most of town.
Mrs. Danwood tapped her desk. "Never mind that. We'll work with what we have. Now, tell me, how are your trances coming along."
"They're better," Ember said. "The scenery never seems to change, but I can picture people and writing. Never food though. I've tried and all I ever seem to see are lemons."
"Hmm." Her teacher sat in the desk beside her. "Most people see scenery before people, but it's not uncommon to be able to see one and not the other. Can you interact with the people you see? Do they talk?"
Ember nodded. "The writing is usually accurate. Most of the time it's a news headline or a comment on one of my reports. Once I saw a note that was getting passed, but I don't know who wrote it so I couldn't confirm it. With people..." She frowned. "They always tell me things. One time I saw Mrs. Mieor, my math teacher, and she told me that she planned to have a quiz on accounting practices. We had it two days later."
"Not that usual form of prophecy, of course," Mrs. Danwood said, "but not unheard of."
"Is it because I can't do sorcery?" Ember asked. That seemed like the only logical conclusion. "I thought maybe I have weird trances because I'm weak."
Mrs. Danwood grimaced. "Prophetic trances aren't based on sorcerous magic. The trance is brought on by calming your mind and opening yourself to the flow of magic around you, to breath it in like air. The prophecy comes like a sweet perfume floating on the spring breeze, you have a hint that there is more but you only catch one note of the scent before it fades. Some people see a person, or a place, or hear a voice. The more you practice the better your trances will become. No one can ever become perfectly accurate, the prophetic vision is a hint of a future possibility. We all have free will. We can all change the future. But there are ways to determine how accurate a vision is. List them."
Ember sat up straight and tried to remember her notes from the day before. "Indicators of vision accuracy are: number of repetitions, vividness of detail, number of magicians who see the vision, and the strength of the memory after the vision."
"And the likelihood of occurrence," Mrs. Danwood said. "Not all are needed, but if fifty magicians all dream that dinosaurs are about to invade South Beach and they all recount the same details it doesn't mean dinosaurs are coming. It's far more likely that someone used a spell to cause a mass hallucination, or that someone is making another horror movie with dinosaurs in Miami."
"Very well. I would like you to enter a trance now and focus on the future. How far have you reached in your previous trances?"
"I'm not sure. There was one I had last year that came true in November, and not all of them have been realized yet. But I don't know if that means they were inaccurate, or if the future changed, or if they haven't happened yet."
Mrs. Danwood looked pleased with the answer. "Very good. I'm glad to see you did the reading. Your focus for this trance should be your own future. Try not to look ahead for headlines and football games, please. I want something that will happen to you."
Ember nodded and sat back in her seat. She focused on everything. The room smelled of sweat, perfume, deodorant, cleaning spray for the whiteboard, and Mrs. Danwood's hairspray that she used to make her silver hair a helmet of curls. The air was a little too cold for comfort, the super-efficient air conditioner blew it around in a steady stream past her. She could still taste lunch in her mouth, cheeseburger, salt, and the aftertaste of the mint gum she'd chewed after eating. Her shirt felt itched her arm where a thread was loose, her feet were hot in her running shoes she hadn't had time to change out of after gym. They were still a little damp.
One by one Ember acknowledged each sensation and let it go. The smells were dismissed, then the taste, the feel of threads and cold air on her skin. Her mind drew inward toward the spark of life. The noise of the air conditioner and herr own breathing fell away until there was silence and darkness.
Ember opened her inner eyes and saw the long hall that ran along on the west side of the courtyard. It was always this hall, classrooms to the left, columns and arched windows where she could see palm trees swaying in the sea breeze to her right. The carpet beneath her feet was maroon with gold accents, faded from decades of abuse. In real life this wing was used for science, dueling, and conferences. Most days it was abandoned and Ember had retreated there to eat in silence on the really bad days when the bullying became to much. It was her place as much as any room in the school could be. She felt safe there.
In the trance she was walking barefoot, a white skirt blowing in the unfelt breeze. It was a beautiful skirt, soft and light and probably more expensive than she could ever afford. Dream Ember always had a better wardrobe, and that thought almost pulled her out of the trance. Ember refocused, letting her sense seek out input from the trance. Magnolia blossoms perfumed the air, the trees swayed gently, her skirt billowed and moved as if she were caught in a hurricane but she couldn't feel the air moving against her skin. So, everything else was chaos but she was calm. Maybe that detail mattered.
She looked around the hall, glanced backwards over her shoulder at the dark doors behind her. Looked forward again and saw Darius standing there. He held out his hand to her the same way he'd beckoned Jennalynn earlier. Ember waited to see where the trance would take her, rolling her conscious thoughts away from her dream body and observing like she was supposed to.
Dream Ember stepped forward, skirt snapping, hem shredding.
Darius took her hand and the wind stilled. Everything fell. The unseen tempest was becalmed.
Darius's mouth moved, but she couldn't hear the words. She felt something though, peace of a sort. Confidence, that was it. Ember pinned the memory of the feeling. She felt confident, calm, happy... never words she'd associate with Darius Kendall.
He smiled, said something she couldn't hear, leaned forward and kissed her.
Soft lips pressed against hers. She could smell sea salt and some expensive cologne. His hand moved to her lower back, pulling her closer. Dream Ember leaned in, opened her mouth to his questing tongue, felt his body brush against hers.
Ember opened her eyes with a startled gasp, every detail of the kiss burned into her mind.
Mrs. Danwood raised her eyebrows. "Are you quite all right, Miss Li?"
"I ah... I, I..." She shook her head. "I must have fallen asleep. That, that wasn't a prophecy."
"Are you certain? It seems to have affected you badly. Was it a tragedy? There are ways to prevent those if you know their likely to happen."
Her hands shook. The emotions, good ancestors, she'd felt so strong. Like the whole world was hers to command. Because he touched her hand. "No, I'm just being silly. I dreamt I kissed the boy I have a crush on. It's really never going to happen."
"People can change," Mrs. Danwood said hesitantly, but not convincingly.
"Not happening." Ember said. "He's good to look at but he's not the kind of crush where I actually want to be near him. I mean, if he kept his mouth shut sure, but he's pretty to look at and nothing more." She grabbed her essay. "Here, can I be done? I'm supposed to help Grandfather Li at his shop this afternoon."
Mrs. Danwood took the paper with a reluctant sigh. "Very well. Do try another trance before Monday. I'd like you to manage a trance without falling asleep, if you please. For today I'll mark this down as a failed spell."
Ember left the room, misery wrapped around her like a cold, wet blanket. Teenage hormones sucked. Clearly this was a sign telling her to leave Miami. Maybe she could still apply to Tulane, or maybe somewhere in Alaska. Somewhere far, far away from the pretty but poisonous Darius. She sniffled and wiped away a tear, not for the kiss. Most guys could kiss well enough according to the books she'd read, but those feelings. Ancestors... it was a good thing she wasn't a sorceress, she'd trade just about anything to feel that powerful and calm again. To feel in control. To feel wanted.