We spent the week between our 9th birthday and starting school in the palace, where they expected us to sleep in separate rooms, which we found difficult despite how tired we were. We'd be joining halfway through a term and the Empress and our
uncle grandfather ('gruncle', as we often called him after the Empress's revelations) did not want us to embarass them, so every free moment was dedicated to bringing us up to speed.
And then we were off to the Cloister of Wisdom.
The Abbess there was an elderly woman called the Resplendent Blossom of Winter. She hadn't taken pupils for years, but would be teaching us as a favour to the Empress - once we were up to speed. To that end, we had a series of tutors: Mneomnaraha (Mnemen's daughter and so the Empress's granddaughter) taught us ethical statecraft and politics; Hitayashi herbalism and healing; Silk Tide (the only teacher who wasn't Dragon-blooded) was a famous poet and taught us history; Chu taught us sorcery and martial arts, along with our primary tutor Geta.
We lived in a house in the adjacent town, kept by Jia and Mi-Yung. They looked after us well, making sure we had a big dinner when we got home, getting us up and well-fed before walking us there to arrive an hour before dawn. The school days were very busy - under the circumstances, we were taught apart from everyone else. It made it hard to make friends, but we sometimes had lunch at the same time as the other students and there was one boy, Hwan, who put up with our questions and unrequested company. He was about 3 years older than us, had been at the school many years, and was gracious enough not to show if he minded when we surpassed him in our studies, despite starting older. He impressed us when we first met him, because he talked to us - but also because he was learning sorcery too, and could already make water move.
To us, it felt like a long time before we were good enough for the Abbess to want to teach us, but she was impressed we'd learnt as fast as we had.
Her lessons were not what we expected: lots of running. Lots of filling big urns with water using tiny cups, then teaspoons, then our hands, and emptying them the same way. This went on for days, leaving us tired and aching.
When we finally had a day off, we spent it reading spells and trying to make water move like Hwan could. To Mi-Yung and Jia's amusement and confusion, we sat on the kitchen floor, each with a bucket of water in front of us. We focussed really hard, until eventually we could see the elementals within! By this point, it was very late and I was tired and knew we'd have more physical work in the morning so went to bed. We found Kito asleep on the floor in the morning: he hadn't managed to make the water move, but had got all the elementals to line up and look at him.
Five years passed, with the lessons with the Abbess more and more intense. The city of Thorns declared war on the River Confederacy - a war they lost. We heard from Captain Ling less often after that, but she had a daughter called Yuwe.
Then we received a letter from the Empress, saying Mummy, Yee and Han had been located. Some scavenger bandit-types had them in the River Confederacy.
And there was nothing anyone could do.
I dragged Kito to the Abbess, Mi-Yung and Jia racing behind us. I figured the Empress must have written to us because she wanted us to go - her letter explained she couldn't send someone for political reasons, so this must, surely, be her subtly asking us to go... Kito told me I must be wrong, because we were just 14 and our training wasn't finished and it would be a suicide mission and the Empress wouldn't send us on a suicide mission. The Abbess explained if we left now, we couldn't come back: she'd had us on a special diet (Mi-Yung and Jia confirmed this) and all the training was coming to a critical point. If we left now, that would all fall apart and we wouldn't be able to learn sorcery.
Reluctantly, I let them talk me down.
We stayed at the Cloister of Wisdom for another year, until they declared we'd learnt everything they could teach us. Before we left, the Abbess spoke to us about how unusual she found us, our abilities. She wondered how we could learn as fast as we did. We told her about the visit to the Sage and what he said. She told us the seer had left very soon after he saw us, that it seemed he was one of the Anathema, but that didn't explain why he'd spoken to us when he hadn't spoken to any other child taken to him. It didn't strike us at the time that she gave him the title of 'seer' rather than 'sage'. Now, I wonder...
The Abbess advised us to leave out the part about the Day Star, but tell the Empress the rest of it.
When we did so, she listened with that kindness she seemed to reserve for us. She then told us about Nexus, and its ruler the Emissary. She asks us to investigate the Guild, a trading organisation with head quarters in Nexus and report back in 2 months. A ship called the Sea Bream will take us to Lookshy, and we can go from there. She cautions us to avoid the Emissary, and that our connection to the Realm and particularly the Throne must not be revealed.