Bright midday sunlight streamed through the domed, stained glass ceiling, casting a multicoloured light over the entrance hall. Four doors led off the hall at the first level, and two staircases swept around the sides to allow access to the balcony, where there were two more doors. These were closed, but the doors on the ground level were all open, giving Enkarini glimpses of what was inside. One, the door to her left, seemed to lead to an actual library, a room full of bookshelves and comfortable reading chairs. The next opened onto what looked like an alchemy lab, and a waft of sweet-smelling steam issued from the open door. A large, empty space could be seen through the next door, and from the flashes of light and strange sounds, she guessed it was some sort of spell practice room. The door to the right seemed like a sort of lounging area, with lots of chairs and sofas scattered around, and a collection of games on a shelf. The place seemed far larger than it had looked from the outside, and she wondered if it was enlarged with magic.
Enkarini had arrived in Bewein earlier that morning, to start her studies at the Inner Library. Remlika had dropped her off at the temple of knowledge, said she would come to see her around sunset to make sure she got home, and gone to search the regular library for any mention of the Forest of the West. She had been growing increasingly concerned about her brother's long absence and total lack of communication, and had she not been responsible for a student, Enkarini got the feeling she would have gone out looking for him months ago.
She was also worried; her sister Kandrina was with Remlik, and she knew they were trapped in the Forest, trying to escape a tall, dark being Enkarini thought of as 'the devil'. She had dreamt about them several times, but it was always the same dream, both of them running through the trees, pursued by the devil, an odd creature leading them. There had been a woman in red in some of the dreams, and at first she had seemed to be helping them escape, but slowly her role had changed, and now Enkarini got the impression that the woman wanted something from them, and they were also running from her. She had told Remlika everything she had seen in the hope it would help her with her search. She had also mentioned it to High Priestess Glissia that morning, when she arrived at the Library.
"This sounds incredibly serious," Glissia had said. "I will begin searching for texts relating to the Forest immediately, but I regret to say I have little experience with the visions you seem to be having. Perhaps you could speak with one of the most gifted students in the Library; her name is Caiara, and she has a natural talent with visions, both her own and other people's."
Enkarini had smiled at that. She had, by chance, met Caiara last week at the Spring Festival. The two girls had gotten along quite well, until Caiara's mother had arrived to drag her away. An acolyte had shown her where the Library door was, and she had unlocked it with the key Glissia gave her. It had clicked shut again behind her, and she assumed there was some sort of relocking spell on it so that it wasn't left open by mistake. For a moment, she stood near the door, just looking around at the place. She was about to start looking for Caiara when a boy's voice jolted her out of her thoughts.
"Oh, brilliant. It's the amazing tiny prodigy," he sneered. Enkarini turned to see a tall, thin boy with black hair glaring at her, lip curled in disdain. "Who let you in here?"
She glared back. After the midwinter display last year, she had hoped never to see Soris again, but here he was at the Library. "High Priestess Glissia gave me a key." She turned away, walking towards the lounge-type room, just wanting to get away from the older boy.
Soris walked along next to her. "Seriously? She must have been really impressed by your vanishing trick," he said sarcastically. "What really happened? Daddy made a big donation to the temple?"
Enkarini stopped abruptly. "Do I look like I'm from a rich family? My talents are none of your business, Soris. Leave me alone," she told him, pushing past him and into the lounge. There were a few other people sat around on the chairs, some children and some adults. A man with waist-length brown hair sat on the floor, playing a dice game with two blonde girls. Ignoring Soris' presence behind her, she approached them. "Can I join you?" she asked, not really caring about the game but wanting an excuse not to speak to the dark haired boy.
"Sure," said the man. He produced another set of dice for her, and quickly explained the rules. It was a simple game Enkarini had played before, where a player called a number, everyone rolled, and the closest to that number won the round. "You're new here, aren't you?" he asked after a couple of rolls.
She nodded. "I just got here today. My name's Enkarini," she introduced herself.
"I'm Andar," the man said. "These two are Jinna and Janna, don't be offended that they're not speaking to you. They were born deaf and mute," he explained. "They seem to be connected telepathically, though, and I'm trying to teach them to use that to communicate with others."
The blonde twins waved and smiled, and Enkarini smiled back. She grabbed a quill and scrap of paper from a low table nearby, wrote down 'it's nice to meet you' and showed it to the girls. They smiled even wider, took the paper and wrote back 'pleased to meet you too'.
Andar looked impressed. "You know, you're one of the few people to have thought of that. Most people just ignore the girls or talk to them through me."
Enkarini shrugged and smiled. It had seemed the obvious thing to do; leaving them out of the conversation just didn't occur to her. "Have you been here long?" she asked, writing it down for the girls.
"I've been here most of my life," Andar replied as the twins started writing their answer. "I started developing my abilities as a small boy, and my mother couldn't deal with it. From what I remember, she wasn't very bright, and someone had convinced her I was Demon spawn. She sent me to the temple to be 'corrected', but luckily Lokana, the old high priestess, realised I had a gift for magic and brought me here to learn how to use that gift. I've been here nearly twenty years now, and I try to help the newer students when I can."
One of the twins handed some paper to Enkarini, and she read quickly. 'We were left here last year. Our parents had another baby, and were too busy to look after us properly, so they made us wards of the temple. Glissia has been very kind and let us stay here to learn.' She looked up at them all, saddened by their stories. The matter-of-fact way in which they had told them somehow seemed worse than learning that their parents had essentially abandoned them.
Always one to try and make others feel better, Enkarini decided she would be friends with Andar and the blonde twins. She was vaguely aware that Soris had left, probably got bored and wandered off, and sat chatting with the three of them for a while. She figured Caiara would turn up eventually, and sure enough, someone called her name from the doorway. Turning, she saw the petite girl making her way across the room, a big grin on her face and a sparkle in her dark blue eyes.
"I've been looking for you," she squealed excitedly. "Hi Andar, JJ," she said to the others, making some gesture with her hands that the twins returned. "I need to borrow Enkarini for a while, Glissia told me to show her around. We'll catch up with you later."
Enkarini stood, leaving the others to their dice game, and followed Caiara back into the entrance hall. "JJ?" she queried.
Caiara smiled even wider. "Jinna and Janna. Andar's the only one who can tell them apart, and since they're almost always together, most of us just call them JJ." She led Enkarini straight over to the alchemy lab. "You know what this room's for, of course. I heard Glissia talking to Disari, she said you're advanced enough in your alchemy to have free access to the lab at all times. Disari's the alchemy teacher, by the way. She's a dwarf, isn't that amazing?"
"Sure," Enkarini said, trying to be enthusiastic. Having spent over a year living in a dwarf village while she learnt basic alchemy, dwarves weren't as fascinating to her as they were to others. She was glad to hear that she would be allowed to carry on studying alchemy here, though; she had imagined she would have nowhere to practise her potion mixing and had planned to transport herself back to Wordarla's shop every so often. "Are there other teachers?" she asked.
Caiara made a thoughtful face. "Not exactly, but some of the older or more skilled people act as tutors. Like Andar, he's the one to go to for mind reading and telepathy," she explained. "He taught me how to do mind contact with others safely. I'm sure he'd teach you too if you wanted."
They had left the alchemy lab while they talked, and now entered the library. It was even larger than it had looked through the door earlier, and several people sat reading in chairs. "This is the study hall; all the books are organised by category, so it should be easy enough to find what you want, but if you're not sure just ask Arikele, she's kind of the librarian." She gestured over to a petite, dark haired woman who was perched precariously on a ladder, looking for something on a high shelf. "If you want to take a book out to study at home, just write your name and the book title over there, then cross it off when you bring the book back." Caiara pointed to a long sheet of parchment pinned to the wall by the door. "You already saw the lounge, that's where we can all hang out and talk when we're not studying or practising. I'll just show you the spell practice room, then we can go and catch up."
"What about the other two rooms? The ones off the balcony?" Enkarini asked.
Caiara looked back at her. "Oh, one of them is the archive where the Wyld Magic books are kept. It's only opened on certain days, and we're only allowed in while supervised. It's to make sure the books are protected, since they're so old. I don't know about the other one, I think it's some sort of meditation room for the priestesses. They're the only ones who go in and out of there, anyway. Come on, the practice room is my favourite," she said, leading Enkarini across the hall.
Enkarini followed, not really paying much attention to Caiara's praise of the amazing practice room. It just seemed like a big, empty space to her, and she was busy wondering about the other, unknown room off the balcony. It being a meditation room for the priestesses didn't make a lot of sense, surely they had rooms like that in the temple somewhere. She decided to ask around; someone here must know more.
Enkarini sat quietly, legs crossed and hands on her knees, trying to concentrate. Caiara had been trying to show her how to control her visions; the older girl was quite experienced in the subject, and very adept at Seeing. She had been practising for so long, she could summon visions while awake, and sometimes even focus on a specific person or time.
Caiara seemed to think that Seeing the present was easier than Seeing the future, so for practice she had asked Enkarini to concentrate on her father, back home in Tewen, and try to see what he was doing at the moment. She was attempting to focus on Harndak, picturing him at work in his forge, but her thoughts kept straying to her sister.
"It's no good, I keep thinking about Kandrina," she said, frustrated with herself.
Caiara patted her gently on the shoulder. "Don't worry, it takes time to get the hang of this." She frowned in thought. "How about you try for a vision of your sister? If she's on your mind already, it might be easier," she suggested.
Enkarini nodded. "Okay." She settled back into position, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. A clear picture of her sister's face appeared in her mind; pale golden hair and porcelain skin, her mouth curved in a smile and her ice blue eyes twinkling with mischief. She felt a tear run down her cheek as she thought of her sister. It had been so long since Kandrina left, and even when she had been away she had always found a way to send letters, or contact them, and she had always come home eventually. This time, Enkarini knew Kandrina was in trouble, and might not come home again. A few moments passed quietly, Enkarini putting all of her effort into visualising her sister.
Suddenly, the image in her mind changed. Rather than Kandrina's smiling face, she saw her sister stretched out on the ground, covered in a thin blanket and gazing up at the sky. Enkarini looked around; she seemed to be in some sort of forest clearing, a small pond in the centre of it, and some clothes were drying on rocks nearby. A splash in the pond drew her attention, and she turned back to see Remlik climbing out of it, soaking wet. Kandrina sat up and smiled at him, tossing him another blanket and telling him to cover his modesty. Remlik grinned, wrapped the blanket around himself, and settled on the ground next to her. Just as Kandrina leant closer to him, the scene faded and Enkarini's eyes flickered open.
"Did you see something?" Caiara asked eagerly.
Enkarini rubbed a hand over her face quickly, unsure whether to feel happy that her sister was safe, excited that she seemed to have had a vision, or sad that Kandrina was still trapped. "I think so. You remember I said my sister was stuck in the Forest? I saw her there with Remlik, her friend, and they were in a sort of glade," she told the other girl. "It didn't last long, though, I only saw a few minutes."
Caiara looked impressed. "That's still pretty good. You must have a very strong connection to your sister," she said, a hint of envy in her tone. "I never had a sister, or a brother. Mum says 'one little terror is enough'." She smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes.
"I'm sure she's just joking," Enkarini murmured. She had seen how harshly Caiara's mum treated her at the Festival, and had stood up for the older girl after she was accused of casting black magic.
Caiara shrugged and smiled. "Don't worry about me, Rini. Mum doesn't bother me much anymore." She almost sounded convincing.
Enkarini shook her head slightly at the nickname. Caiara seemed to shorten everyone's names, sometimes just to their initials. She didn't mind, but hoped it didn't get any shorter; being called 'Nee' might get confusing. "Come on, let's get to the alchemy lab," she said as she stood. She had agreed to teach Caiara some basic alchemy in exchange for her lessons in Seeing. The older girl had struggled with it at first, but was starting to get the hang of the basics. Enkarini hoped to get her mixing her first potion by midsummer.