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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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His first thought was of the stable. He had worked with animals on the farm, though none as grand as the warhorses and battle mounts that the upperclassmen and faculty stabled at Eastridge.

Fell found the Stable Master in one of the horse stalls, currycombing a brown-spotted steed. The Stable Master was a short, brisk woman who wore her dark hair cropped short. At Fell’s approach, she looked over at him, but didn’t stop brushing the horse.

“Yes?” she prompted.

–  –  –

“My name is Fell, Stable Master,” he said, staring down at the straw on the ground as he spoke. “I’m… I’m looking for work.” He dared to glance up at her.

The woman swept her eyes over him, sizing him up. “You’ve worked with horses before?” “Yes, Stable Master. Mostly with cows, but a couple horses.” “My name is Sennia,” she informed him. “You’re a student here? What year?” “First-year,” Fell said. He couldn’t bring himself to call her by her first name.

The woman snorted. “I don’t put much stock in hiring students, particularly not firstyears. They don’t need the money, so they stop showing up when they decide classes or girls are more important…” She trailed off, taking in Fell’s patched and worn clothing.

“You’re bonded, aren’t you, boy?” she demanded.

Caught off-guard, Fell only nodded, his face burning with shame.

“There’re always a couple each year,” Sennia said, her voice softer. “And they do usually do good work.” With a sigh, she grabbed a nearby broom and thrust it at Fell. “The pay is twelve coppers a week for fifteen hours of work. You’ll work under Assistant Stable Master Lannen,” she said, pointing to a man in the back. “For today, clean out the stalls along the back wall.

Before you leave, check in with Lannen. From now on, you’ll answer to him.” Fell nodded quickly and took the broom. He went into the first stall and began sweeping.

As he worked, he tried to add the figures in his head. At twelve coppers a week, he’d be able to pay the two silvers in a little over eight weeks…which was three weeks more than he had. Fell gulped.

–  –  –

“Watch where you’re sweeping that!” a familiar voice shouted.

Glancing up, Fell saw Cai standing in a cloud of dust and stray straw that Fell had just swept his way.

“Sorry,” Fell said, stepping back. “Are you here for… is this your horse?” he asked clumsily.

Cai coughed. “…Something like that.” Fell realized that Cai also had a broom in his hand.

It took him a moment to understand that Cai must also be working here… And if Sennia had hired him, did that mean that Cai must also be a bonded laborer? Fell didn’t think it was possible. Cai was so confident. He knew so much about fighting. No one ever picked on him.

“Look,” Cai said. “This never happened, right, Farmington?” “Uh, right,” Fell agreed.

“Neither of us was ever here.”

–  –  –

Cai gave him a short nod and moved on to clean out the next stall.

Fell went back to cleaning his stall, feeling a little better. At least he wasn’t in this alone.

After a few hours of work, it was nearly time for class. And Fell still hadn’t figured out how he’d get the extra coppers he needed to make his payment. Gathering his resolve, he approached the Assistant Stable Master.

“Not another one,” Lannen grumbled, spotting Fell. “Sennia’s getting too blasted soft.” Fell ducked his head not knowing what to say.

“Okay, kid,” Lannen said, “let’s get a few things straight. I know every piece of equipment that’s in here so don’t think about stealing anything. And I know how long it takes to

–  –  –

muck out a stall or saddle a horse, so don’t think you can take all day doing a couple simple things. And if you mistreat any of the animals, I’ll see to it that you don’t get a job anywhere on campus or in town for the rest of your life.” “Um, excuse me, sir?” Fell sensed this might not be the best time to ask, but his fear of missing his payment and being sent back to his bonded work prodded him to take the chance. “If it’s not too much trouble, is there any way I could pick up a few extra hours this week?” “Extra hours?” Lannen asked, squinting at him. “What for? Got a girl you’re chasing after, and she can’t wait to have some shiny trinket?” “I’ve got a payment I need to make…to my master,” Fell said reluctantly.

Lannen frowned. “I’ll see what I can do for you. But don’t expect to make a habit out of this.” “I won’t. Thank you,” Fell said. “Really, I…” Lannen cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Be here at sun-up tomorrow.”

–  –  –

“And mind me, first-year,” Lannen called after him, “you miss a single shift and you’re gone.” ~*~ Rai watched Wisteria choose a seat in the dining commons and sat himself at a distant table hidden in the shadows, where he could hopefully watch her without attracting her notice.

–  –  –

Rai turned to the voice, recognizing the white-haired boy Nianzu liked to threaten from Thief class. His hair wasn’t actually white, just painfully blonde, and the strangeness of his

–  –  –

features extended to his eyes, which were a curious shade of violet. He was slightly bigger than Rai, definitely taller. What was his name again? He tried to remember Nianzu’s threats.

–  –  –

“She’s at everyone’s interview,” Lyre said, sitting.

Rai considered him a long moment. “I think this may be the first time I’ve ever eaten with someone in the Thief department.” Lyre gave him a wide grin. “Me too, actually. I’m hopeless at figuring out where the Thieves’ table is nowadays.” “There’s a Thieves’ table?” Rai wondered if that’s where Averi was because he hadn’t seen her since the last Stealth class. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen Nox or Quin lately, but it wasn’t as though he missed their company.

“Supposedly. I haven’t figured out if it’s truth or just a mean joke to poke fun at us firstyears.” Lyre attacked his steak with vigor. “Of course, there used to be one, so the chance it’s true is equally the same as it not being true.” Rai raised an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you know? Haven’t you lived here your whole life?” It was common knowledge that Lyre was the son of the Professors Cross—Naleni Cross who taught Cleric classes and Valyx Cross who taught Warrior combat training. Both were infamous for being strict, but Rai had never had a class with either.

–  –  –

“Not my whole life. But close enough,” Lyre said.

“Growing up at Eastridge with professors as parents must have been interesting,” Rai guessed. “How’s the assignment going?” “Well enough,” Lyre said. “Eastridge seems to attract strange people.” “Who are you following?” “I haven’t decided yet.” Lyre shrugged. “It’s between a really strange Cleric major or one of those nobles in Emberlynn’s circle.” “Ah, why are you having trouble?” “I can’t decide whether I want to follow someone who’s interesting or someone who’s…” He fumbled.

“Easy on the eyes?” Rai hazarded a guess.

Lyre grinned. “Might as well have some fun with this while we’re at it.” “A girl can be both interesting and beautiful,” Rai felt he had to point out.

“Very poetic, Ravin. But a girl’s always one more than the other.” Lyre smirked. “It’s not that Lady Dove’s not pretty or Lady Peony’s not interesting.”

–  –  –

“The Wisteria Ling?” Lyre sat up a little straighter. “Which one is she?” A little thrown by Lyre’s reaction, Rai nodded hesitantly at the table where Wisteria was sitting alone. She had propped a textbook before her and was looking somewhat tired. Not so subtly, Lyre turned and stared.

–  –  –

“She’s prettier than I expected.” Lyre whistled and looked at Rai slyly. “So, pretty and interesting, eh?” “She’s just my lab partner,” Rai said. “I didn’t realize she was famous.” “Oh, hardly.” Lyre took a bite out of his bread roll. “She’s probably not famous to anyone but me. I’ve just heard a lot about her.”

–  –  –

“Of course.” Lyre frowned. “Wait, how long have you been following her? Anyway, you know the Ling Monastery’s reputation, so of course everyone’s curious about her.” “Of course,” Rai echoed, pretending he understood.

Lyre raised an eyebrow. “You know how the Ling Monastery specializes in neutralizing enchanted items.” “Uh… wouldn’t it be more impressive to enchant items instead?” Lyre rolled his eyes. “It’s extremely interesting magical theory. Besides, Ravin, I’m surprised you don’t already know this. I thought it was common knowledge.” “Right,” Rai said, frowning.

“By the way, you’ve stopped paying attention to your target,” Lyre pointed out, gesturing to the empty table Wisteria had been sitting at.

Rai swore softly under his breath. With a nod, he grabbed his things and ran after Wisteria.


–  –  –

Rai raced out of the dining commons, his mind running through all the different places she might go.

Wisteria didn’t do much outside of class, other than her homework. So first he checked the Drop Tower Library. It was crowded; there was a group of second-year boys in her usual corner. He remembered, with a bit of sympathy, that she was always alone, and it seemed she actually went out of her way to avoid people. The Library right now was the last place she would be.

He tried her room, hanging from a tree outside and peering into the window, praying he wasn’t about to get himself into more trouble than he was ready for. The Light spheres were flickering cheerfully inside, but the room was empty.

–  –  –

He thought back. The one thing other than homework that she seemed to do with any regularity was walk through the gardens. While the Library occasionally filled up, the gardens were extensive enough to never feel crowded, undoubtedly the reason why Wisteria went there so often.

Rai failed to find Wisteria, but he did stumble across Annalise and her crowd of nobles. It crossed Rai’s mind that he could simply cut his losses and change his target. He was getting nowhere with Wisteria, and surely one of the noble girls wouldn’t be as guarded as his lab partner. Drawing closer, he overheard snatches of their conversation.

“The Winter Ball is only weeks away, and you mean to tell me, Nadine, that all the firstyear girls aren’t already gossiping about boys and gowns?” Annalise asked.

“More about boys than gowns,” Nadine said with a smile. “And more about one boy than any other.”

–  –  –

“I think we all know who you have your heart set on,” Annalise said with a conspiratorial smile. “And if we have anything to say about it, I’m sure you’ll be going with him.” Rai couldn’t help wondering who Annalise was referring to, particularly when he heard Nadine’s response.

“Oh, I’d be so happy,” Nadine said. “But there are so many other girls who…” “I think there’s only one girl you need to watch.” Nadine frowned. “I suppose you’re right.” “I wouldn’t be so friendly to her, if I were you,” Annalise added off-handedly. “At any rate, I doubt any friendship with the Princess would last long if you’re both in love with the same boy.” Rai frowned. Now he really wanted to know which boy they were talking about.

“I never said I was in love!” Nadine said quickly, a blush already creeping across her face.

“Of course not, dear, you don’t have to,” Peony said, giggling. “It’s written all over your face, every time you’re around him.” “Is it? Is it really?” Nadine asked, clearly worried.

“Don’t worry,” Annalise said. “Boys are always the last to know.” The girls began to walk off, and Rai made a sharp turn and started to follow his new target. Rai may not have been the best or brightest Thief at Eastridge, but as Annalise and her girls left the garden, they never saw the dark blur in the shadows following them.

~*~ Rai followed Annalise and the nobility back to Drop Tower, where the girl disappeared into her room. Undaunted, Rai ran outside and scaled one of the many trees, climbing until he

–  –  –

was outside her window. He was starting to consider himself somewhat of an expert on entering the dorm through windows. Since he still hadn’t found his room key, windows were his primary means of entering even his own room. He counted the windows twice to make sure he was outside the right one—it would be difficult enough explaining this if he was caught, even worse if he ended up outside the wrong person’s room.

Luckily, the trees were planted close to the window—he could creep right next to it and glimpse in at the corner, where the pink drapes didn’t quite block the view. He settled into a comfortable position on the tree branch, recalling the days during the first week of Thief class that had been spent planting saplings in various locations around campus. At the time, Nianzu had called it landscaping, but Rai was beginning to understand that nothing in the Thief Major was ever exactly what it seemed. He said a silent thanks to whatever first-year so many years ago had planted this tree and leaned closer to the window.

“Darling, you can’t seriously be considering having your dress made of red,” Lady Annalise Emberlynn was saying. “It’s scandalous.” “I don’t see why,” Lady Calla-Lily St. Claire protested. “I’ve always been fond of the color. And besides, the Princess wears a shade of burgundy, which is nearly the same as this.” This went on for what seemed like hours to Rai. He almost nodded off in his tree when they finally reached a conclusion.

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