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«EASTRIDGE ACADEMY: SCHOOL FOR ADVENTURERS BY KARA LOO AND JENNIFER YOUNG Eastridge Academy: School for Adventurers Prologue Explain why you would be ...»

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“As I was saying,” he continued, “I can tell you the classes haven’t gotten much further than embarrassing the first-years.” “I guess I’ll give it a chance,” Averi said, although she was somewhat disappointed. Even the Clerics had the historical Allora to admire, but Thieves? There weren’t any great tales of legendary thieves. “Do you think it’s too late to change?” “Too late to change what?” Lady Annalise Emberlynn asked, sitting down next to Averi.

She was followed by Calla-Lily, Peony, and Celia. Trailing behind them was Lady Nadine, a quiet but pretty first-year who had been added to their ranks.

Averi winced at the intrusion of the nobles on this casual conversation. She watched her roommate and her Thief for how they would react, but to her relief Wisteria only blankly took another bite of her apple, and Rai gave a small wave to the noble girls. Annalise turned to Averi expectantly, and Averi rememebered that Annalise had asked her a question.

–  –  –

“My minor,” Averi replied. Even though she didn’t feel like discussing it with a committee, any attempt to cover their conversation could be interpreted as a direct insult. “But I believe I’ve settled the matter. Allow me to introduce…” “Wraith Ravin of the Ravinswood family, correct?” Annalise interrupted, and without waiting for a reply, added, “He’s been helping little Nadine on her Cleric homework. He’s been quite the devoted teacher, I hear.” Nadine blushed, and Averi noticed that Nadine looked everywhere but at Rai and nibbled at her slice of roasted quail.

“Of course, it’s always a pleasure working with someone who understands the material so quickly. I’m sure that by next week, she’ll be teaching me,” Rai said with a wink at Nadine, who had accidentally made eye contact. Wisteria gave him a strange look.

“Where is all this modesty coming from?” Wisteria asked him quietly, but her question was drowned out by Lady Annalise forcing the topic back to Averi.

Wisteria rolled her eyes and left the table as Lady Annalise said, “Can we expect to see you in the Cleric classes soon?” “Unfortunately, no,” Averi said. “Tomorrow I intend to switch to the Thief minor.” Annalise set down the tea she had been sipping. “The Thief minor.” Averi couldn’t miss the surprise in Annalise’s voice. However, Rai deftly maneuvered the topic back to his Cleric work with Nadine.

Though none of the other girls brought it up again for the rest of the night, Averi was almost sure that there was something different about the way they looked at her.


–  –  –

Averi sat primly across from Headmistress Veraniel Sansdarth as she flipped through a stack of parchment. Averi could only guess that it was her paperwork for transferring from the Warrior minor to the Thief minor. She had filled out all of the necessary requests. Why she would be called into the Headmistress’s office for this was beyond her. She was about to ask when Sansdarth spoke.

“The Thief program,” Sansdarth said to Averi, in a tone that suggested she was almost thinking out loud, “has always been the subject of some scrutiny. Hardly a year goes by without some noble or another protesting that we’re teaching little more than common pick-pocketing and preparing entire generations to go straight into a life of crime.

“But,” she continued with a slight smile, “while pick-pocketing is one of our courses, we have always managed to defend ourselves with the staunch reply that there are skills unique to thievery that mean the difference between life and death, which, as you know, is the principle that this school is founded on. If the difference between a surviving group of students and a dead group of students is that a Thief managed to sneak behind the enemy and steal a magical weapon or incapacitate a skilled mage, then it’s well worth risking moral ambiguity.” Averi looked down. Of course. Moral ambiguity. It seemed like Sansdarth was no different than Annalise and her noble ladies, concerned more with propriety than education.

“Do you have any questions, Averi?” Though Sansdarth called her by her assumed name, Averi never doubted that the woman knew her real identity. “If you think I haven’t given thought to how my choice of minor would reflect on my station, then you are mistaken. I have given the matter much consideration and am prepared to…”

–  –  –

Sansdarth dismissed the remainder of Averi’s speech with a wave of her hand. “Before you get yourself in any deeper, Averi, let me tell you that this is the speech all Thief majors and minors are given the day they arrive at Eastridge.” “I… I hadn’t realized. My apologies.” Averi fought to keep her breathing normal so the blush that was betraying her wouldn’t spread farther across her cheeks. She must have seemed like such an arrogant fool.

Sansdarth chuckled. “You know that our policy is strictly against giving anyone special treatment, Averi, and that means we won’t make it harder for you either.” “Thank you, headmistress,” Averi managed to say.

Sansdarth accepted her thanks with a nod as she noted the change in Averi’s file and quickly traced out the runes over the top of the paper that would notify the necessary teachers

with a copy of the paper on their desks:

Please update courses accordingly.

–  –  –

Averi waited nervously in her room, pacing back and forth restlessly, glad that Wisteria wasn’t around to see her crossing the invisible line that divided their room. Even though the two roommates ate more meals together than apart, Wisteria still shot Averi a stern glare every time she stepped onto Wisteria’s side of the room.

Averi glanced out her window at the clock tower and halted mid-step. It was only five short minutes before her first Thief class was supposed to begin. Rai had promised her that he would meet her at her room and go with her, but he was nowhere in sight.

There was a sharp tapping at the window, and Averi jumped. She opened the latch to the window and pushed it open, letting Rai in.

“Don’t you ever use the door?” “This way, you’ll always know it’s me,” he said with a smile. “Come on.” They walked out of Drop Tower and down to the stables. “Are you sure there isn’t anything else I should know?” Averi pressed, for perhaps the third time that day.

“Yes, yes,” Rai assured her. “We’ve hardly covered anything. Our first assignment was to decode who our mentors are. The second was to plant hundreds of seedling trees around the campus… What that has to do with thieving, I’ve no idea, but we were instructed not to get caught. The third assignment was to find one of the Thief passages that runs through the school, but only a couple of people were able to locate any of them.” Averi frowned, wondering how she’d possibly be able to catch up. Secret passages?

Planting trees? None of this made any sense.

–  –  –

They reached the stables just as the clock was striking. In the back, in the shadows, they found the Thief students crouched and silent, waiting for Nianzu. As Averi and Rai took their places, the Thief professor dropped down from above to stand at the center of the group.

“By now, you all know the entrance and exit points of at least one Thief passage,” she said. “It’s time for your first real mission to begin. From now until the next class, you are to choose a target and follow them. Learn all you can about your subject. During that time, you will take from them one precious object without their knowledge.” Nianzu snapped her fingers and pages of parchment appeared in each student’s hand.

“These are the rules for what objects may or may not be taken.”

–  –  –

It went on like that for pages. Apparently, the headmistress hadn’t exaggerated the concern for propriety as far as the Thief classes were concerned.

–  –  –

“See that you strictly follow these rules,” Nianzu said sharply. “The penalty for breaking the rules of any assignment is required attendance next year in The Ethics of Thieving class.” Everyone seemed to shudder at the idea, and Averi got the feeling that each Thief would be more than careful to strictly adhere to the many-paged document.

“Yes, Lyre Cross? You have a question?” “He always has a question,” Rai whispered to Averi, pointing to a white-haired boy in the front of the class.

“How do we know how attached the target is to an object?” Lyre asked.

“Because you’ll be following their every move for an entire week, Lyre Cross. If you can’t discern what’s important to someone by then, surely you don’t belong in this class.”

–  –  –

“Further,” Nianzu continued, “in addition to the rules on objects, there are a few rules concerning the subjects you track. Your target should not become aware of your presence at any time during the tracking. You will be watched closely by your mentor, who will deduct points if your target identifies you.” Nianzu paused to let that sink in, then continued, “Don’t get caught.

That is all.” The darkness of the stable seemed to melt around Nianzu until she was entirely obscured.

When it dissolved, she was gone.

“Well, we have our orders,” Rai said to Averi, who still looked like she was in moderate stages of disbelief at the class, the teacher, and the entire assignment. “Let’s get to work.” ~*~ Five hours into his Thief assignment and Rai Ravin was no closer to figuring out Wisteria Ling than he had been that morning.

–  –  –

Wisteria rose early, ate breakfast alone, and brought all her books to class with her. She braided her hair when bored, and liked to write her name—her real name—in the margins of her textbooks during lecture.

Her middle name was one he rarely heard used, but it was pretty.

–  –  –

Textbooks! Apples! He could hardly steal these for the assignment. None of his observations were hinting at any object of sentimental value that Rai would be able to turn in. He had already followed her for most of today. What more could he do?

“Pay attention,” Wisteria snapped. Rai gave her a startled look as she gestured to the mortar and pestle he was holding. The white treble-root in the bowl looked unimpressively intact. “We have to put that in next.” “I am paying attention,” said Rai stiffly, crushing the root as if his life depended on it.

“Oh, really? You’re grinding the wrong herb.” She cocked her head, causing her braid to swing precariously near the fire under their pot. “Treble root is red.” Rai considered her statement before saying, “Only in the north. If you’re in central Easden, it’s white.”

–  –  –

He nodded warily, wondering if she was asking to verify the fact or to argue against it.

He remembered she was a Cleric major and taking one extra Cleric class than he was. That explained why she constantly felt the need to challenge him, even though technically he still had four more years’ experience, which topped anything she could have learned in the last few weeks.

–  –  –

“Interesting.” She inspected the white root powder he was putting into the pot. “That’s new. But I’ve never been to central Easden before, so it makes sense.” “Never?” Rai grabbed a towel to dry his hands off. Treble-root always left chalky marks.

“That’s strange.” “Is it?” She sounded uninterested.

“That’s where the capital is. Most noble families have to travel there at some point, if only for the royal census,” Rai replied.

“I’m not from a noble family,” Wisteria said distractedly. “Did you already chop the fenule?” “Uh, no.” His intuition nagged at him. “You’re not noble?”

–  –  –

“Uh,” Rai paused to think. Why had he assumed that? She was clearly used to schooling—probably in mage-work, since she didn’t bother to take notes in Introductory Runes and was considered very advanced in her combat-casting skills. He could attest to the fact she must have had experience with formal debate, and her annoying ability to quote her textbooks and manuscripts like she was holding them in front of her marked her as someone who was well read. That level of education told him she must be from either a wealthy or a very knowledgeable family.

But, schooling alone didn’t make her noble. Noble ladies weren’t normally taught the art of combat casting. The Shield charm he had witnessed her using in Combat Casting earlier today spoke of hours and hours of practice noble ladies simply didn’t have. Come to think of it, she didn’t dress or speak like any of the nobility he knew. The nobility didn’t wear their hair down like she did, and they didn’t speak with her candor. And, any noble lady worth her title would

–  –  –

have died if word had leaked out she had treated Averis Rystendale, the Emperor’s niece, with any of the gruffness Wisteria used to handle Averi.

Unless that lady had that no notion of royal politics or diplomacy whatsoever.

Unless that lady was Wisteria Ling.

The knife she was waving at him caught his attention. “I realize I wasn’t terribly clear when I said ‘The fenule needs to be in there now, or we will fail this assignment’, but, the fenule needs to be in there now, or I will personally ensure that…” “Right.” Rai Ravin dumped the over-chopped leaves into the pot and watched the poultice turn a faint green. “See? All better.” ~*~ Fell had been putting off getting a job long enough. To get out of his bonded work on the farm, he had to send a sum of two silvers to his master every other month. The first payment had taken up what was left of his savings, and the second was due in a few weeks. Unfortunately, Fell had been so preoccupied with his Warrior classes that he hadn’t managed to scrape together any money.

–  –  –

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