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Captured and Trained by Charlene McSuede – Sample

Chapter One

Captured and Trained by Charlene McSuedeThe pain was incredible. If she could have opened her mouth, she would have screamed. But she couldn’t open her mouth. She was in the oxygen tent, recovering from the burns of her trials. Beneath the pain was sorrow, sorrow for the boy who’d carried her through the fire. Yes, he’d been a convict, and a bad one at that, but she still felt sorry for what she’d done to him. She would remember the way she’d made his eyes go blank, ending his own desires and caring only for hers, as she passed the final test of her trials.

She’d passed the tests. She should feel somewhat satisfied by that. Eva was the youngest master charmer in fifty years. The orphan girl with no family name was now as important as any Ariel highborn.

She couldn’t help but wonder if the boy had lived, though. Julian told her she shouldn’t care, when she’d expressed concern before her final test. But Julian was different. Julian was a jumper. He didn’t know what it was to take someone’s will away.

Now, Eva did.

She breathed in through the heavily oxygenated air, remembering vaguely where she was. A glass casket, designed to filter her air and help repair the damage done to her skin during the trial by fire. It was the highest trial for a master, and the hardest. Very few lived. Before the trial, Julian had tried to talk her out of it with his statistics.

“Only one in ten make it, Eva. One in ten. You’re far too pretty to feed the fire.”

What she hadn’t told Julian was that she’d prefer feeding the fire over continuing the rest of her life as a nobody. Only Eva, the orphan with no family name, who was a relatively adept charmer, but nothing particularly special. That’s who she would have been.

She wouldn’t go back to being nothing. Her parents had been nothing. That’s what had been told to her by the lady at the orphanage. An ord and a peasant charmer who’d been killed in a raid. A special who’d mixed with an ord and paid the price.

She was lucky she’d been given any charmer abilities at all. That, the old orphanage lady had told her, had been an accident of fate. Mixed-blood people were nothing, and she’d do well to remember that.

The world, at least Eva’s world, was split between two very different types of people in the hedonist lands. There were the specials, the ones gifted with powers from the gods, and the ords, who had no powers at all.

In the hedonist lands, the specials were divided into two groups: the charmers and the jumpers. A charmer, like Eva, had a very special ability that made people fall in love with her and become so overcome by her that they wanted nothing more than to do her bidding. The jumpers could move through time and space as easily as a snap of their fingers.

They both had their mastery tests, if they wanted to move onto the highest caste in hedonist society. The jumpers had to learn to not just move through time, but to stop it entirely. Very few jumpers were able to master that art.

But the charmers who mastered their art were even rarer. For a charmer to pass their mastery tests, they had to go through several trials to prove their dedication. The final was the most difficult.

The complete ability to take away someone’s free will. There were three different trials that a charmer could face. Water, earth, and fire. What trial they faced depended on what their convict feared the most.

The charmers didn’t get to rely on their physical abilities at all. Instead, they could only rely on their ability to compel their convict to risk everything for them. The charmer would be bound, held either in an underwater tomb, in a coffin underground, or at the heart of the flaming mountain. The only thing they could rely on was in their ability to compel their convict to save them.

In many cases, when a convict feared death, their compulsion would just wear off, and they would walk away to leave their charmer to die.

Eva’s convict had feared fire more than anything, so Eva’s trials had taken place in the heart of the flaming mountain, just before sunset. She’d had ten minutes to compel her convict, a boy of no more than eighteen who had been convicted of murder.

Maciel was the name of the convict who’d been assigned to her. He’d been a stubborn boy, with keen, intelligent eyes. That had made her glad. Even when his free will was gone, his intelligence would remain. His hands had been rough when she’d grasped them. He’d been surely angry over his lot. Then, she’d done what she did best. She let her eyes fill with blue fire and stared him down until she’d removed every block of resistance in his brain. He’d given way to her surprisingly easily, that stubborn, intelligent murderer, and she’d given him one order.

“You’ll find me at the heart of the mountain. You’ll take me from there and carry me to safety, no matter what happens.”

After that, he’d nodded dumbly, and Eva had been taken away. She’d been locked in an old wooden room at the heart of the mountain. The stink of flammable oils on the wall had made her eyes water. When the sun reached its place over the mountain, the walls would burn. She would burn. She was bound, with her wrists behind her and her ankles tied together, locked in a wooden room at the center of a volcano.

If for any reason, Maciel’s compulsion didn’t take, she would be left there to burn.

The first hour there had been torture, but not because she was afraid. Eva was arrogant enough to know she was the best. Instead, it had been torture because she couldn’t scratch her nose. It was itching terribly, in the way a nose will only do when you can’t scratch it, and she’d been ready to curse in frustration that Maciel was taking so long.

Even her second hour in, Eva still believed he would come. Even as the room became uncomfortably hot, and sweat had poured into her eyes, she hadn’t feared death. She believed in her abilities and she believed in Maciel.

Then, the flames had come. They’d licked the walls and filled the room with smoke. And even as Eva was gasping for air, as the acrid smoke filled her lungs and any breath could have been her last, she never stopped believing he would come for her.

Love was a powerful thing, after all.

Then, the door had burst inward, and there was Maciel, his swarthy body covered in sweat. “Milady,” his eyes had been desperate as he reached for her on the small wooden stool, “milady, I must get you to safety.”

She breathed out a sigh of relief in the stagnant room. “I knew you’d come.”

Maciel had acted quickly, scooping her into strong arms and they began their journey out of the heart of the mountain. Through rivers of lava and geyser sprays of fire he’d carried her, his breath even and comforting. He was light on his feet and traveled quickly. Their ascent from the mountain had taken hours, but it had been relatively easy. That was, until the final geyser.

It had sprayed out of the ground in front of them, ten feet into the air, right at the entrance to the volcano. The surprise had caused Eva to gasp in a mouthful of the poisoned air, and Maciel had stumbled backwards.

Then, he’d launched her forward, out of the mouth of the cave, and she’d landed at the feet of the waiting masters. As they cheered Eva’s success, she looked back.

She saw Maciel in the center of a deadly river of lava, standing on one rock that wasn’t even large enough for one of his feet. Even then, his eyes showed no worry. They only showed pleasure at his ability to save her.

She’d tried to demand somebody help him, but she hadn’t been able to speak. Her throat was sore and swollen from the hot air.

She’d tried to scream again. He’d come for her. She needed to be there for him. She tried but no words came out. Nothing to demand someone save Maciel. He’d done his duty, he deserved his freedom.

But as she’d attempted to scream one more time, everything had faded to black.

When she’d awoken again, she was in the casket. At first, she feared she was dead. The hedonists always buried their dead in glass caskets, so everyone could admire their beauty one more time. Then, a mystic had appeared, a healer. She’d put her hand on the glass outside and called Eva ‘master.’

At that, Eva had relaxed with pleasure. She still couldn’t speak. People came to visit her throughout the day, to congratulate her on her success. Some, like her friend Julian, came to celebrate with her, while others, like the slimy teacher’s aid from her first-year class, had come to ingratiate themselves with the new master. Through them all, she nodded and smiled and admired the gifts and offerings through the glass. She was pleased with her new status. She was glad she wasn’t a nobody anymore.

And through it all, she wondered about the boy. In a way, she felt like she could feel his fear, his anguish over his situation. For some reason, she was convinced he’d been innocent. She wanted to ask about the boy and learn more about him.

But since she couldn’t ask, no one could give her any information. So she watched the world around her and soon, all thoughts of the boy were gone.

As the day grew longer, the activity in her private room grew more frantic. People ran in and then ran out. She felt their panic, their pain, and their fright. And she felt it as though it wasn’t just happening to a few people, but to an entire nation. She felt their anguish and desperation, and then she felt them give up.

Some of them pried expensive medical equipment from the walls of her room, and some stuffed their pockets with medication as they ran.

It took her awhile to understand, through her hazy mind, but she finally started to realize Ariel was under attack. Ariel was under attack and she was being abandoned in her glass casket.

Julian arrived, but he didn’t speak to her. Instead, he looked down at her, eyes filled with sorrow. He shook his head, ripped the chart off of her bed, and replaced it with something else. Then, just as the door burst open, and stoic soldiers filled the room, he disappeared.

That’s when Eva pulled up her most dangerous, and most secret, ability. It was an ability no charmer should have, and she’d never told anyone about it before. If she had, she would have surely been killed.

Now, she only hoped it would save her life.

Damon Adario shoved open the doors to the wards with his mind, his frustration making the small kinetic task easy. He was angry with his father. As the son of the army’s top general, he’d expected to be fighting the charmers and jumpers on the battleground several miles away, not killing injured ones as they slept in their beds.

The stoics had been at war with the hedonists for longer than Damon had been alive. Their two ways of life were so in opposition, there was no way the two people would live peacefully next to each other. After all, stoics used their special powers to control the world. To advance mankind.

Hedonists used theirs for pleasure.

He grimaced in distaste as he studied the room, his lightning bolt at the ready. The small electrical device he carried was an invention of a stoic, designed to short-circuit a brain and kill someone instantly. It was the most humane way to go about ending a life.

If they could catch the jumpers, they could become useful. The trick was capturing them before they flitted away with their powers. Kinetics had the ability to throw a mind web, trapping someone within it, but only if they were faster than their quarry.

Very few jumpers had been caught in the town of Ariel.

Charmers were a different matter entirely. They enslaved people with their abilities and they were capable of anything. That’s what the lightning bolt was for. Charmers couldn’t be allowed to live. Their ability to control minds was too dangerous. Even the sick ones, staying in the hospital, had to be dealt with.

It was a cruel, distasteful task. But as the son of the general, it was his task. As a kinetic, a person who had the ability to move things and create energy with his mind, only he could work the lightning bolt.

Determining which were charmers, which were jumpers, and which were simple ords, was left to his best friend, Kia. Kia was a highborn like Damon and he was a high-level lieutenant. As a reader, he read the thoughts of those they were about to kill to determine who was a threat and who could be rehabilitated to live among the stoics.

The stoics also had their specials, which fell into two groups: kinetics and readers.

As far as Damon was concerned, the world had no place for frivolous skills that the hedonists boasted, like jumping and charming. Jumpers were simply useless, unless they were being interrogated. The hedonists always caved quickly under interrogation and the jumpers were the ones who knew army positions and supply routes.

But charmers were dangerous. They could compel people to do things for them, using tricks and mind manipulation. In the stoics’ land, where honesty was prized above all things, this was an ungodly task. The master charmers were the most dangerous, as they had the ability to take away someone’s free will forever.

So though the task was distasteful, Damon went about it. Kia went from room to room, delving into the thoughts of the sick, determining who was a charmer, who was just beginning their training, and above all, who was a master. The charmers who had already come into their power and knew how to charm would be killed.

The younger ones who would grow up to be charmers were simply culled, cut off from their magical ability. They would be taken and reformed.

Magic didn’t become part of a person’s overall makeup until after they’d embraced it. If they were able to get to charmers and jumpers before they’d started training, then a simple zap with the lightning bolt would sever them from their ability to do magic. They could be retrained as ords, never to do magic again.

Fully trained hedonists couldn’t be culled. The magic had already been absorbed into every pore. An attempt to cull them would kill them, especially a master. Culling involved removing something important, something that made them who they were. For younger ones, removing their magic wouldn’t kill them. For older ones, like masters, their magic made them who they were.

Culling was invariably fatal for a master.

He found no masters. That didn’t surprise him. Masters wouldn’t go to a cheap hospital ward. They would have healing mystics in their households to care for their illnesses. Master charmers were the most valuable to the hedonists and the most dangerous to the stoics.

Then, he came upon one final room. It was a private suite, something a highborn hedonist would have. Due to the war, it was all but abandoned, save for the glass casket in the center of the room.

Inside was a woman of such astonishing beauty, he was sure she had to be a charmer. Charmers were well known for their physical beauty and most of the culled ones would be sent to work at pleasure houses.

Her eyes were closed, long dark lashes leaving shadows on her pale cheeks. Her lips were full and red, her hair arranged in shining waves around her face. The casket around her let out a steady hum as pure oxygen was filtered in, and he watched the way it made her hair move, like the way the grass in the wheat fields moved on a breezy spring day. There was something so wild, intriguing, and completely unsterile about her, in such a strange sterile environment, that he could only stare.

“What do we do with this one?” Kia was beside him, his dark eyes watching the sleeping beauty with interest.

Damon moved forward, yanking a paper chart off the side of the glass case. “Eva.” He read out loud as he studied the paper. “She had no family name.”

“Why would they put an orphan in such an expensive suite?” Kia looked around, incredulous that such a place should be wasted on an orphan of no family name.

Damon studied the paper before he came to the diagnosis. “Fever,” he answered affirmatively. “Grass fever.” He ran his eyes over the paper before he reached the end. “She’s a charmer, but a new one. Hasn’t completed training yet.”

“Probably due to the fever.” He felt Kia nod next to him. “Grass fever lasts years in the hedonist lands.” Kia turned to walk away. “Best to leave her. She might be a beauty, but she won’t do for the pleasure houses. She’s deadly contagious. She’ll die in time.”

“No.” Damon caught Kia by the arm, unsure of why he was making such a demand. What Kia wanted to do was the practical thing. Why waste grass fever antidote on a hedonist who wouldn’t provide them with anything in return? But there was something about her. Something that demanded he take another look. “Read her.”

Kia gave him an odd look, before stretching out one muscular arm and placing it on the lid of her casket, closing his eyes. His friend didn’t have the most expressive of faces, but as his eyes closed and his head tilted, he could see he was seeing something unusual. The girl in the bed went limp. Kia’s features went from placid and slightly amused, to shocked and confused. Finally, he pulled back his hand, studying the woman in the casket.

“Well?” Damon asked, impatient for the answer.

“She has blocks.” Kia’s eyes were wide. “Tons of them.”

Blocks. Only a reader could create mind blocks. They were designed to keep other readers from seeing their innermost thoughts. “How can she have blocks?”

Kia shook his head. “I’m not sure. I can tell you she’s an orphan. She doesn’t know who her family is and has no close kin. But after that, all she thinks about is burning. Everything else, she’s blocking me from.” Kia looked to him. “Misclassified. That’s the only answer I can think of. She thinks of burning because of the fever. She could have had it since childhood. The hedonists never let their people die.”

“They don’t.” Damon frowned. Grass fever was one of the things mystics couldn’t heal. Only the stoics had the antidote and they used it rarely, choosing to only use it on the most important people. Hedonists would keep their victims of grass fever on life support for years, believing that all life was sacred. They would never euthanize a patient, no matter how long they’d suffered.

Eva appeared to be one of the victims of this mindset. Even worse, she’d been misclassified.

If she had thought blocks, she was a reader. That meant she should have been living among the stoics all along. While misclassification was rare, it happened in the borderlands. Usually, the misclassified were culled and made to live out their lives as ords.

But the woman in the casket, the beautiful Eva, had gotten lucky. She was an untrained reader who’d been discovered by the right people. Her people.

He nodded down at the casket. “Take her and see she gets the antidote. If she shows promise, my family will patron her.”

Kia’s eyes went even wider. “Are you certain?”

He couldn’t blame his friend for his shock. Patronage was a huge responsibility. He’d be expected to take to Eva as though she was a daughter, ensuring her training and finding her a match, but he would do it. Honor required that he do it.

Eva, the girl with no last name. She was one of them.

The place Eva awoke was very different from the place she’d gone to sleep in. At first, she wondered if she’d died and had somehow been sent to the otherworld. It certainly was gray and gloomy enough.

Then she remembered the war, the certainty that there was a battle. Soldiers entering her room right before she’d put in the mind blocks. The exertion had caused her to pass out, but they must have worked. She certainly wasn’t dead.

She knew she should feel more anxiety, more fear for the people who’d likely been killed in the war, but her town had always been besieged by war. She’d been born in the border town of Ariel, which had seen more than a few skirmishes in her short twenty-two years. One such skirmish had taken the lives of her parents. At least, that was what the woman at the orphanage had told her.

She had very few close connections in Ariel. As an orphan with unknown parentage, she was lowborn, treated on the same level as an ord. Her only close friend had been Julian.

Julian! She sucked in a breath and pushed on the lid of her casket. They’d taken her, casket and all, though she wasn’t sure why. Her muddled mind struggled to make sense of all things that had happened that day. Julian at her casket, doing something to her chart. The paper was still there, though slightly torn and Eva smiled as she pulled it off and read it.

Grass fever. It was a highly contagious illness. One that would make any stoic hesitant to touch her, never mind open her casket long enough to kill her. Instead, they would have just left her to die, giving Eva a fighting chance at escape.

“Clever bastard.” She set the paper aside and struggled to sit up, her weakened body and the casket itself making it cumbersome to move. After a bit of a struggle, she finally found her footing, stumbling out of her hospital bed for the first time in what was likely weeks.

But why had they taken her? It wasn’t for the pleasure houses she’d heard rumors about. She hadn’t been culled. She couldn’t be culled. She was a master.

“Fat lot of good it does me now.” She frowned and looked around the room. It was spartan and plain, everything in shades of gray or white. It was a thoroughly antiseptic room with no paintings on the wall or flowers from well-wishers.

“The antidote certainly worked quickly.” Eva jumped at the interruption and spun, only to nearly lose her footing and fall. Instead, she slumped back against the bed and studied the man who’d entered.

He was handsome enough, she supposed. He was light-haired, like Julian had been, with pale hazel eyes and a slim body. He watched her for a moment without speaking. Then she felt it. It was an unpleasant feeling, like icy fingers were touching her brain. A reader! With a gasp of alarm, she realized her blocks were down and she snapped them back up quick as a flash.

Eva had met only one reader, once before. He’d been a rare man, unaligned with the stoics. A transient, really. She’d met the man while selling apples in the bazaar, which was something orphaned hedonists did to earn their keep at the orphanage. He’d set up a small gambling booth, and Eva had approached, curious as she always was. It was a simple game: Three picture cards, and the player had to guess where the heart was. He’d shuffled them, and she’d studied his face, trying to see through his expression where he’d hidden it.

Then, clear as day, she’d seen it. The man sliding the card up his sleeve as he shuffled, replacing it with a spade. It was almost like she was looking through his eyes when he’d done it. Once she’d pointed it out, the man’s eyes had gone wide with alarm and he’d pulled her away from the table, yanking her with him into an alley.

“How’d you do that, little bit?”

Eva bit her lip, certain she was in trouble. “Do what?”

“Don’t play games, girl. How’d you look in my head?”

Eva had mulishly shrugged, but the man had persisted.

“What you did was a reader trick. I didn’t think Ariel had other readers.”

She’d yanked her arm away in frustration. “I’m not a reader, sir. I’m a charmer.” She’d stated that proudly. She might not be important that day, but she would be one day.

After that, she’d spent the day helping the man at his booth, the lady at the orphanage simply glad she wasn’t underfoot. What was unique was how they talked—which was only in their heads. Eva had loved it. It was a secret power! He’d also shown her how to shield her thoughts, to hide them from other readers.

She’d been sorry to see the man go that day, but excited to share the news about her power with her friends. When the man had seen that, he’d left her with a stern warning.

“No one can ever know about what else you can do, little charmer. Keep it your secret.”

“Why?”

“Two powers ain’t a blessing, it’s a curse.” The man’s eyes had turned sad and he’d shaken his head slightly before walking away, as though remembering something very dark. “Thousands of innocent people have died simply because of the threat. Knowing you have two, that’s a death sentence, girly.”

The warning had so chilled Eva that she’d never even tried to use that strange ability again, but she could always tell when someone was using it on her, and she knew how to set up a block when she had to.

The new reader wasn’t kind like the old one had been. He was a stoic and he could be there to kill her. As if to illustrate the point, he shoved at her again, pushing so hard he nearly broke a block. So Eva returned the favor, shoving her way into Kia’s head.

His name was Kia. She knew that, just as she knew he’d killed a dozen people that day, sleeping in their beds.

“Are you here to kill me too?” She sent the thought right into his mind, causing his eyes to go even wider.

“In the stoic lands, it’s considered rude to enter a person’s mind without their permission.” Another man had joined them, when she and Kia were locked in their battle of wills. She turned her attention away from him, to focus on the new man.

Damon. His name was Damon. While she’d thought Kia handsome, next to Damon he looked like a pale, wriggling worm one found under a rotten apple. Damon’s hair was dark, so dark it had hints of blue in it. His eyes were also dark, and at first glance, they seemed brown, but then she realized they were closer to midnight blue. “Then you should tell your friend to not enter my mind first.” She shot the retort back at Damon.

“You are not a stoic. You don’t get the same courtesies.” He gave her another arrogant look before turning his attention back to Kia. “What did you learn?”

Kia gave her a look of amusement. “Her best friend is a jumper named Julian. She grew up in an orphanage and has been hiding the fact that she can read minds since she was eleven.” He gave her another amused once-over. “She also thinks I’m handsome, but not as handsome as you.”

Eva’s face went a little red at the last statement, but even her embarrassment did nothing to quell the fear that Kia had seen that much. Could he also see her charming ability? Could he see she was a master?

“Where did you train?”

She went cold all over. “I’ve done no training.”

He crossed his arms, his skepticism clear. “Don’t lie to me. You clearly have some ability. According to Kia, you can create a mind block, and I just saw you read his mind. Who taught you?”

“A man at a bazaar. She met him once, never got his name, and he only showed her how to use it so she could help him cheat at cards.” Kia answered before she could, surprising her again. He’d gotten past more of the blocks than she thought.

“She learned all of that in one afternoon? What else can you get out of her?”

She’d learned something else too. It had been something she’d learned herself, fusing a combination of both her charming and reading abilities. When Kia began to study her again, she weaved together two tapestries in her head. She created a new story for herself, one with enough truth in it to make it buyable.

Kia’s face screwed up in concentration. “She started her charmer training several months ago, but she wasn’t very good. She was using her reading ability to manipulate people, instead of controlling them. She was fearful of being found out, and tried to flee to the mystics. Then, she was bitten by a grass snake and got the fever. She’s been in a coma since then.”

She would have laughed in delight if that wouldn’t have given her away. Kia had bought the entire false story! Some reader he was. She’d only been reading for a few minutes, and she’d already fooled one of their strongest readers!

Escaping the stoics was going to be simple.

“She’s also planning to escape.”

Damn it! Eva glared at Kia while hating herself for her impulsive, wayward thought.

Damon simply shook his head, apparently not worried at all about her intention to escape. “So she shows promise, then?”

“Incredible promise. I can say I’m powerful without being arrogant about it, but next to her untapped abilities, what I can do is almost childlike.”

Damon took a step toward her and she flinched away, not sure where this was going, but not liking it. “So she’d be worth patroning, then?”

Kia nodded. “Between her abilities, and the way she looks, pretty much any merchant family would make an offer to marry her to one of theirs. A high one.”

Eva’s eyes went wide at the suggestion. They’d taken her to marry her off to some sniveling, stick-in-the-mud stoic? In the hedonist lands, arranged marriages were virtually unheard of. Marriage in general wasn’t a highly sought prize. Apparently, the stoics felt differently about it. Regardless, there was no way in hell she was letting them do that do her. She was a master charmer, not some prize pig to be sold to some idiot stoic.

“If you’re taking suggestions about my future, might I suggest execution? Because any stoic boy you marry me to is going to spend his wedding night with a knife in his throat.”

Damon finally returned his attention to her. “I heard hedonist women were a passionate lot.”

She shot a cold look at Damon. “I’m not interested in being married, and I’m certainly not interested in being a stoic.”

“This from a woman who was trying to flee the hedonist lands anyway.” Kia let out a snort of derisive laughter. “What did you think you were going to find among the mystics?”

Eva’s passing thought of the mystic land was a thin lie to cover. Truth be told, she knew very little about them. They were a mysterious, nomadic people. They had the ability to heal, and shift into another human form, but they were pacifists who rarely took part in battle. She’d never actually met a mystic. She had only read about them in books.

Kia relayed that information to Damon and Eva cursed at him. Kia simply shot her another amused look, and it was all Eva could do to not strangle him.

“You wouldn’t like living with the mystics anyway.” Damon gave her a haughty, certain look. “They aren’t as pampered as the hedonists. Live off scraps and berries like animals. While it might not be as extravagant as your ridiculous hedonist upbringing, with the stoics you’ll have a comfortable place to sleep, food to eat, and you’ll be able to get educated in reading.”

Eva wanted to tell Damon to go to hell. Her upbringing as a hedonist had been far from extravagant. Fighting for food with a room full of orphans, children the stoics had made orphans, being rented out as slave laborers to pick the red berries at berry festivals and sell them in the market. It was only her ability as a charmer that had saved her from life as an ord.

But she didn’t tell him any of that. Instead, she concentrated on his last sentence. “Educated in reading.” She’d known she’d had the ability since she was eleven, but she’d been forced to hide it. A freak like her, with two abilities, would be a threat. Here, she could learn it. It wouldn’t take long. She was a quick study. Two weeks, probably no more, to learn how to control her strange ability.

She frowned as she studied the dark, gray room. Adjusting to stoic life would be no picnic. The people were cold and formal, the surroundings drab and depressing, but she wouldn’t be there long. Just long enough to learn. How hard could learning to live like a stoic really be?

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