Chapter 1

The car rocked lightly as the train sped through the barren plateau toward the town of Galisk in southern Maiad Odur. Two days earlier, a massive earthquake had shaken the central regions of the continent. Most of the experienced coranna in Aieh had been dispatched within hours of the emergency, and as a result, the majority of the damage had already been taken care of. The major cities of Yaritt and High Plateau had already been taken care of, but many of the smaller villages who had only suffered minor damage had yet to be visited. It was in these situations that the ranking members of the Tarren found it useful to send out inexperienced coranna with their teachers to get some field experience before they graduated the Institute.

Calixte Rousene sat near the front of the car, tired of staring out the window at the bleak, dusty landscape. The train trip had been comfortable, since they were part of a relief effort, the High Council had been willing to pay for train fare and even a comfortable passenger car for them to ride in. This was a blessing she was particularly grateful for. The train ride was nearly eight hours long and many of her students had never traveled so far before at one time. She let out a sigh and pushed a lock of pale blonde hair behind her ear.

"Is everything alright, my lady?" The young soldier's voice startled her. She had completely forgotten that he was sitting next to her. Private Dranis was young, maybe twenty five at the oldest. He had a wide, honest face that always seemed to be blushing when he spoke to her. She was aware that he probably found her to be appealing, and felt sorry for him. She may have looked the same age as him, but she was three times it and had no intention of risking everything she had by getting involved with a child.

Although she didn't pay any particular attention to her appearance, Calixte was, and always had been, a stunning woman, tall and slender with ivory pale skin. She wore a simple khaki skirt and tan blouse without adornment, her hair worn in a twist on the back of her head. On the surface, she was simply beautiful, but there was something more to her that made her truly magnetic. There was a vividness in her eyes, a eager gentleness in her movements, and an openness in her laughter that made it hard not to like her. She was a coranna, trained and devoted to the Tarren and its good works. It was her personality and viatality that made her a brilliant teacher and had earned her so much respect at such a young age.

"Yes, I'm fine. I just get tired when I travel," she responded absently, giving a small distracted smile in his general direction.

"Well we'll be arriving here soon. I heard Captain Cairbre say that we'd be there within the hour," he told her eagerly.

"Mm, that's good," she said.

She sighed again, and stood, balancing herself as she stretched, her back making several loud popping noises. She turned around and stood on her knees on the seat, looking back through the faces of her students. There were fourteen in all that had accompanied her for the field training. They were the students she knew would be graduating the Institute in the near future. The girls had all begun the day eager for their first experience at actually using their abilities and training to help people, but the trip had worn them out. Mostly they looked bored and a little sleepy. The youngest of her group was Ana, at only thirteen, she had a bright future as a coranna and was extraordinarily talented for her age. Whether that natural aptitude would continue as she aged was a question that could only be answered in time. The next oldest were twins Shana and Sarai as well as Norow, Calise, Zister, and Ulie at fourteen. Then came Lourie, Perra, Wentra, Jana, Handress, and Kierra at fifteen. The oldest was Joura at sixteen, a quiet and pensive girl who took her studies seriously.

It was Joura who Calixte was thinking about the most, though. At sixteen, the time had come for her to make the decision to either graduate and continue her serious training in the Tarren or to have her abilities sealed. The summer was only a few months away now, and if she didn't make the decision soon, her gifts would be sealed and she would have no say in the matter. Calixte hoped that this trip would solidify in her mind the future she wanted for herself. Did she want the life of a coranna, or did she want to go back to her family and live out the life of a typical non-magian? It was a decision that each person had to make individually, but once made, it could never be taken back.

"Ladies . . . everyone wake up, and get yourselves together! We'll be arriving very soon, and the train will be leaving as soon as we disembark. Make sure you don't forget anything. There won't be any way for you to get it back," she told them. The girls rubbed at their eyes or stretched and many of them gathered up books or trinkets they'd been entertaining themselves with.

Calixte sighed, and continued talking. "First, I want to remind you all that we are here with the protection of the High Council's grand military. The soldiers you see accompanying you are here for your protection. When you are on your own missions you will be the head of that mission, and your military escort will have to follow your instructions. You are however, not on your own mission, you are accompanying me on mine, and I expect each and every one of you to treat all of these soldiers with the highest respect. You are still young and this is the first time for all of you going out into a disaster zone. You will obey the soldiers if they tell you to do something, because they are here, as I already said, for your protection. If I catch any one of you disrespecting any of these men you will receive significant demerits and detention once we return."

"How many demerits?" Calise asked, her freckled face grinning.

Calixte resisted the urge to smirk. Calise loved to push her limits, always testing to see how much she could get away with. "Enough to make you sorry. I'm warning you ahead of time. You get into trouble, you will regret it. Also, if I catch any of you attempting any alterations or transformations outside what I have assigned you, you will receive the same punishment. These are not simulations, these are not games. We are dealing with real people's lives." Calixte reached down and opened her brown leather bag sitting on the floor next to her seat and pulled out her notebook. "I'll review so there are no arguments when the time comes! Ana, Norrow, Zister you are on agriculture. That's plants. Not people, not animals, not buildings. Plants."

"Are you sure I can't be on medic? People are more important than plants!" Ana argued.

"People need to eat. You're going to be sure they manage to do that. Besides, you simply haven't studied long enough to try transformations on people yet," Calixte responded without even looking up. They'd already had the discussion twice.

"Shana, Calise, Ulie, Lourie you are on construction. Listen to what the people tell you when you're helping rebuild. Remember, you want to help them get their lives back they way they were before the earthquake," Calixte said. Ulie nodded sagely. Calixte had no doubt that Ulie would follow through and graduate from the Institute. Without question, she would go into construction as her focus. She had an aptitude for it, and truthfully, Calixte knew she just liked making buildings.

"Perra, Wentra, Jana, you guys are on object forming and repairing. This stuff is important that you pay attention to detail. A clock with pieces out of place won't work. An axe with a faulty head won't cut wood. Just because something looks okay, doesn't mean it is," she said.

"Then, on medic is Sarai, Handress, and Kierra. Listen to me, and this is important. Do not try to fix anything that's out of your league. If you're not sure about it, don't do it, call for me. Do not try to fix bones alone, do not try to fix internal injuries alone. If something doesn't heal right, come get me. If someone says it still hurts, come get me. Do not try to put anyone asleep. Do not try to heal old injuries that have healed on their own. You are dealing with people's lives, always be cautious, always be vigilant," Calixte cautioned. She looked up from her list and gave the girls a very severe look. Of the three, it was Sarai who had the most intent expression on her face. She was destined to be a healer, Calixte could already tell. Having been a teacher for so many years, she knew when she saw students with great potential, and Sarai would be a master healer.

"Last, Joura, you're with me on multi-front," she said. Joura swallowed, and looked terrified. "Hey, you'll be great, okay?" Calixte gave her a very serious look and a small nod of encouragement. The girl returned her nod and Calixte continued. "Also, my dears, you girls are here to learn. A team of ranking medic coranna are already working in Nalish. If they give you an order, it is just as if it has come from me, personally. There shouldn't be any real medical emergencies, but if there are, you'll be told what to do. Understood?" The girls nodded and Calixte stretched and turned back around to sit down in her seat.

The remaining twenty or so minutes of the trip was remarkably uninteresting. The girls became more active, moving and shifting about the confines of the car. They stretched and began to talk and pay more attention to the scenery outside the train. Calixte returned her attention to the rocky terrain that was rapidly passing the train window. Rock formations zipped past too fast to really pick out any discernible details, not that she was particularly focused on them. She'd been here many times over the years for various disasters. It seemed that every ten years or so a massive earthquake would crumble the towns in the region. Coranna were dispatched again and again to put them back together. She had few good memories associated with the area and tried to push her gnawing anxiety to the back of her mind, focusing on the light flurries of snow outside. The plateau was positioned roughly near the equator, but it was at a high enough altitude that it was always cold. Usually, it wasn't so cold that it snowed, but today seemed to be their lucky day. It was already uncomfortably chilly for her taste since Calixte had grown quite accustomed to the temperate weather of Aieh and the gloomy snow-clouds indicated that it wasn't going to be getting any warmer in the next few days.

She often wondered why people would continue to live in a place that was so consistently dangerous. There were regular tremors, and then, there were the less frequent but more devastating earthquakes. It was really, probably the scenery. In a wild, open sort of way, the central plateau had a sort of charm. Although the ground was hilly and covered in rocks, a profusion of tiny purple and blue flowers covered everything, their grayish green vines even clinging to the rocks. At this altitude, few trees could survive consistently, but those vines and flowers covered everything. The snow would cover them up, but in a few days when it melted, the hardy little flowers would still be there, seemingly unharmed by the ice and bitter cold. Once, she'd tried to bring a few of them home to Aieh in a pot, but the same traits that made them able to thrive in such a harsh environment, also made them unable to live in a more temperate one and they all died within a few weeks.