She went through the day in a haze. At her age and level of training, she was supposed to have reasonable control over the breadth and direction of her focus. She'd been warned strong emotions could shake it, but she hadn't understood. Some things couldn't be told; they had to be experienced.

She squirmed like a beginner during Sitting. Instead of sinking deep into her breath, discerning her body sensations and smoothing the flow of Will and Fate inside her, she kept reliving those few mortifying seconds. She tried forcing her mind away, but her inner weather was like a raging storm. Thoughts slipped, wet and sleek, and a dark, oppressive weight crushed her with the rumble of thunder whenever her intention weakened.

Pottery was too fiddly. As soon as the guide saw her hands tremble, she excused her.

“Wheel and kiln are unforgiving. Throwing and firing want steady fingers.”

She left the circle, looking away from Donistea and her clique. She'd done her best to avoid them through the day, but they hadn't needled her at all. It was almost condescending. She didn't matter enough to bother teasing, or maybe it was too easy to be fun.

Walking could be as much a discipline as sitting, but not one Lemnastia liked or excelled at. Her feet traced the paths through the garden, but her intention wasn't strong enough to keep her inner quiet. She yearned for something different and wilder, so she took her sandals off, propped them against a tree, and went barefoot.

The grass tickled her soles. It was distracting, making it hard to concentrate, but it also interrupted the loop of useless self-talk. There was no point in looking for the perfect words she could have said, or the precise moment she should have let them know she was there. Done was done.

Her feet took their steps in turn. One heel lowered and brush the blades of grass, then press down further. Her weight slowly shifted forward, until it rested on the ball of her foot, and then her toes. They clenched against the grass, while the heel lifted up again, and opened up just before breaking contact. The other foot followed.

She did her best not to let it become a mindless rhythm, but to contemplate each step as complete and sufficient. She used words at first: damp, sharp, soft, cool. At the herb garden, the distinct scents helped her sharpen her intention. Her focus encompassed every brush and prod. Later, she loosened a little, let words go, and let the sensations speak for themselves.

The forest beckoned her. She looked down at her pale, soft skin, wondering if it was a good idea to tread over untamed land. The fallen leaves covered the ground, protecting her from sharp rocks and sticky soil. Their crackle was startling at first, but she brought it into her focus, and it was just what she needed. There was plenty for her to attend to. The swirling clouds in her mind slowed down, then dissipated, showing scattered instants of clarity and silence.

A few rain drops fell. She squeaked, shivering as the water slid down her neck and under her robe. Looking back, there was a long way to go, but she'd been told a practice wasn't done just because it became uncomfortable. She breathed in, filling her lungs. She planted both feet firmly, did a few stretches, and continued to walk, until the inner noise abated, just as the outer storm continued to pore. She was ready to return.

She was also drenched, and though she ran back, so were her sandals. Her feet sloshed in them, cold and wet. It was just as unpleasant as what she had to do.

She rang the bell by Guide Isemia's study and shivered, trying to shake herself dry while she waited.

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