A massive ridge of compacted ochre sand curves around, fluted and carved by wind erosion into a tangled mass of columns and ledges dropping several hundred feet to the vast red-gold plain below. I focus southeast across the plain to the far horizon of sunburned haze shimmering over the dun-shadowed dunes of Irithen.

    Home. No. Don’t think about that now. 
    Get distracted, get it wrong, out here you die.
    Professor Maret waves his arm at the steep columns of russet wall on our left. 
    ‘Today we advance to the next level of skill in the Fourth Principle, Ly’r illin p’en tal, knowing the way. We wait vigil here for the initial attunement. Those who pass this test will return tomorrow and travel alone, across the gravel shield as far as the dunes.’
    He rumbles through details of how to attune to desert resonance, but I’ve been doing this all my life. Heat haze ripples over the undulating ochre desert, bathing the foot of the precipice below in a shifting mirage…
    And then I feel it again. The discord, fracturing across the smooth flow of heat and air and sand like a faint, hoarse scream ripping through the song. With no one else experiencing this, I’ve been trying so hard to convince myself it isn’t real. 
    ‘Professor, the Fourth Principle is no longer valid.’
    He gives me a long searching look and for a precious moment I see disbelief fading from his wrinkled face. Then it’s gone and my faint hope fades with it. His voice is firm.
    ‘And what makes you sure it’s the frequency that’s wrong rather than your interpretation of it?’
    ‘I… I don’t know. It’s never felt weird like this before.’
    The professor moves to the edge of the cliff and beckons. ‘Come, Aisha. I think it’ll help if you try it, get your confidence back before you lose it altogether. You know I’ll check every placement before you go.’
    Maybe it’s just a crisis of confidence everyone has to overcome in their training and I’m experiencing it a few years early. I move to the edge of the cliff and take the tiny laser-pointer Maret offers, gripping it till my knuckles whiten as I highlight the vertical descent.
    I’ve never felt fear like this before when preparing for the Fourth. When you sense the waveform around you, it’s like finding the harmonies in a song and the rhythm in a dance. You can just feel when it’s right and you know you’ll survive if only you hold focus. But now I can’t trust my senses. If the frequency shifts unpredictably again…
    Get on with it––Irithenis train by taking risks!
    I’m getting soft with all this comfortable Kareshi living. I shift my gaze across the expanse of desert far below, focusing single-pointedly on the wave before drawing back to the drop beneath my feet. At least the only life I’m risking now is my own. I don’t even want to think about a time when I’m responsible for other lives as I was with my sister…