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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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“Well,” Calla-Lily said, “I suppose lilac is also lovely.” Nadine smiled. “That’s true. And what are you wearing, Annalise?” Annalise gave a shrug. “I’m having a new one made. I commissioned it in town before the start of the term. I knew that with classes, there’d hardly be the time needed to get a proper gown started. It’s in the latest fashion. And the color is lovely.”

–  –  –

“I don’t think I’ll have… time… to get a new gown,” Nadine said, looking away. Rai didn’t know how well-off Nadine’s family was, but the blush on Nadine’s face suggested that it was more than just time keeping her from a new gown.

Rai shifted until he could see Annalise’s face. The older girl had a skeptical look on her graceful features. She was lounging on her bed, arranged as prettily as a portrait, and commanded the room with an imposing authority.

But when she spoke, her voice was friendly and gently teasing. “It’s never too early to begin preparing for a ball, is it? And at Eastridge, we’re given so few opportunities to enjoy social functions. You must borrow one of mine. You’ll have your choice of any gown. Lady Peony, let’s show Nadine what she has to choose from.” Rai nearly lost his balance leaning over for a better view as Peony, amidst the giggling and squeaking of the girls, pulled out gown after gown from Annalise’s closet.

“You must have every gown in the world!” Nadine said breathlessly, watching as the pile grew.

“I’ve done my best to that end,” Annalise said, clearly amused by Nadine’s reaction.

“Really, take your pick.” Nadine disappeared behind the heap of dresses and emerged first holding up a pale white gown that gleamed with pearls at the neck and waist. That was rejected; apparently white was too demure for the Winter Ball. The next, a pale green gown with silver embroidery, was deemed good enough to try on, but that was also rejected on the grounds that the color did nothing for Nadine’s eyes and made her hair look too light. By the second hour of sitting in the tree, Rai was beginning to reconsider his decision to follow Annalise. He wasn’t any closer to finding something to steal, and time was running out.

–  –  –

“How about this one? It’s perfect!” Nadine said, for perhaps the tenth time.

Rai glanced over and saw her holding up a bright pink dress, the first pink dress that he had seen in the entire pile. It was delicate looking, with no lack of lace trimming, pearl accents, or flouncing gossamer fabric.

The girls exclaimed over it in delight, declaring that the shade was just perfect for Nadine’s complexion.

“Annalise, I thought you hated pink,” Peony remarked, holding the dress up to Nadine.

Annalise was silent. Rai watched as her expression changed from mild distaste to alarm.

“Not that dress,” she said sharply.

–  –  –

“It’s all wrong for the Winter Ball,” Annalise said smoothly, having recovered her composure. “Pink is a spring color.” “Oh,” Nadine said, returning to the pile of gowns.

With a glance at each other, Calla-Lily and Peony seemed to question this, but ultimately they turned their attention back to helping Nadine. Annalise settled back onto her bed.

Rai couldn’t help smiling. He had seen through Annalise’s act. Maybe people didn’t wear pink, but that had nothing to do with why she wouldn’t let Nadine borrow the gown. He wasn’t sure why it was so important to her, but that was hardly the point. After only an hour of stalking, he had found something important to steal. At least this was one Thief mission he wasn’t going to fail.


–  –  –

Averi’s muscles felt tight and tired. She had been crouched in a corner of the Sparring Grounds for the past hour, and only now that the Warriors had arrived for training did her muscles start complaining.

But Averi had learned to resist fidgeting the first time she had taken her place at the Royal Table for important functions. And if she had been able to remain completely motionless and expressionless for hours on end when she was five years old, she could certainly do it now.

So she remained crouched between the rocks of one of the sparring rings, completely silent, waiting. Averi knew this sparring ring. She knew all she had to do was wait.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Torrent and Fell came to the center of the ring. Partly for revenge and partly out of a lack of any other ideas, Averi had chosen Torrent as her target for the first Thief assignment. After stalking him for the past few days, she had to conclude that he was little more than she had expected him to be. He beat those weaker than himself, laughed loudly over coarse jokes with Rakam, and spent every free moment he had training.

Trailing Torrent had been easy; he seemed to be utterly unconscious of anything that didn’t appear to be a direct threat or potential target. To make matters easier, he spent most of his time in the common areas. The only difficult part of Averi’s assignment was figuring out what to steal.

Unfortunately, the only item that Torrent seemed to have any sort of attachment to was his sword. He never let it out of his sight, he kept it near him even when he was training in handto-hand combat or lifting weights, and never let anyone else touch it. And then there was the fact that the sword was massive enough to make Averi doubt whether or not she could even lift it, let alone steal it without anyone noticing.

–  –  –

It was a daunting task, to say the least. But Averi knew that there was one time when the second-years were prohibited from having their weapons in hand: during Sparring I. Not only would Torrent be forced to put his sword aside, he would be distracted by whatever first-year was unlucky enough to be his victim. This far into the year, nearly all of the first-years had improved enough to keep the second-years on their toes, and the second-years had learned not to let their guard down during a match.

Luckily for Averi, Torrent always chose the same sparring ring. Averi glanced over at where the Warriors were standing, a couple dozen yards away. Halden was finishing with his introductory lecture, which was little more than throwing a few terms at the wide-eyed firstyears, and then turning the second-years loose on them.

Subtly, the first-years edged away from Torrent’s crew, trying to avoid ending up near any of them without actually drawing attention to the amount of distance they were attempting to put between themselves and the danger. Averi’s eyes fell on Fell, as the boy stood his ground, refusing to give even an inch.

Averi bit her lip, as Torrent inevitably rounded on him, giving him a sharp push towards the sparring ring where she hid.

Ducking back down, Averi knew she should feel a grim sort of relief. From what Averi had seen, which was more than enough, she knew Torrent wouldn’t get distracted while beating up on his favorite target. But that didn’t change the sick feeling in her stomach as she watched Fell walk stoically to his fate.

But it was time for Averi to get to work. Concentrating, she wrote out the Hide Rune on her wrist. Immediately, she saw herself blur, blending into the surroundings. It wasn’t as good as

–  –  –

an Invisibility Rune, but Averi didn’t want to risk such a complicated rune on her first assignment, particularly when execution had never been her strong point.

Averi dared a quick look from behind the rocks and saw that they were already facing off. Fell had a grim look on his face that was only too familiar to Averi—it meant that Fell was resigned to the fact that he was about to get hurt. Badly.

And just then, Torrent lashed out with a sweeping kick that caught Fell in the chest.

Averi gasped, hating Torrent for hurting Fell. Lowering herself back into her hiding place, she shuddered, surer than ever that switching minors had been the right decision. Fell might be able to take it, but watching him endure it was… Averi shook her head, refocusing her concentration.

Averi breathed deeply and tried to stay calm. Now was the time to do it. She snuck another glance and saw that Torrent’s sword was leaning against the rocks near them.

She heard a grunt of pain from Fell, and she knew that it was now or never. She darted out, her hand found the hilt, and she pulled at it, realizing that it was just as heavy as she had feared. Luckily, she had a spell ready. They hadn’t learned many runes in the Thief major, but one of their assigned readings had listed some helpful runes that Averi had researched in the Mage library.

The Lift Rune was simple, and she had practiced it endlessly the night before. In the time it took to blink, she traced it quickly on the hilt of the sword. Activating it was somewhat more difficult, with the Hide Rune already taking a fair amount of effort to maintain, but Averi managed to cast the magic. Suddenly, the sword felt weightless in her hand. She pulled it up and rolled outside of the sparring ring.

–  –  –

She crouched there for a second, then sprinted off, making it out of the Sparring Grounds in a few short strides.

Once she was safely away, she hefted the sword, marveling at the strangeness of having such a heavy object almost float in her hand. But it wasn’t until she was in the safety of the nearby stables that she took the time to release the runes she was holding and look over her stolen prize.

The sword was made of an expensive metal, perhaps more expensive than Averi would have expected a second-year student to have. The metal shone with a silvery gleam and felt smooth and polished against her hands. Obviously, it was maintained with great care. The handle was wrapped in leather, and at the hilt there was a single, tiny white string.

Averi looked at it closer and realized that it wasn’t string. It was a delicate bit of ribbon.

At the center, it held a small, cheaply made metal charm; the smallest that Averi had ever seen. It was rough and dull, too small to be worth even a copper. The shape of it was indistinct, but Averi imagined it could have been a heart.

Confused, Averi studied it for a few moments before prying back a few planks of the barn floor to reveal a hollowed out space she had created a few hours earlier. She pulled out a piece of cloth from the compartment and wrapped the sword. She didn’t particularly care if she damaged something of Torrent’s, but she was terrified of breaking any of the many rules and suffering through an entire year of The Ethics of Thieving.

Stowing it safely beneath the boards, Averi wrote a few protection runes over it in the dust. She knew they were too weak to keep out anyone who knew what they were doing, but it was the best she could do. And besides, she only had a few hours before Thief class met.

–  –  –

She dusted off her hands and stood, stretching to work out the cramps in her muscles. She wondered if she had time to check in with Rai. She hadn’t seen him during their assignment, and she didn’t even know who he was trailing. She wondered if it was anyone she knew… ~*~ Deciding to steal the dress had seemed like such a good idea when Rai had been sitting outside Annalise’s window the night before. Now, with Cleric class getting out later than expected—Fell had brought them some complicated injuries—Rai had less than twenty minutes to sneak into Annalise’s room, steal the dress, and decipher where the next Thief class would be.

As for deciphering the clue, Rai wasn’t too concerned. He had gotten better at figuring out the codes, but that still didn’t keep him from putting it off till the last minute. As for stealing the dress… that would be more complicated.

So, with a quick glance to make sure no one was around to see him, Rai scrambled up the tree outside Annalise’s room and crept out onto the familiar branch directly below her window.

He only glanced in to check that it was empty. At this point, it hardly mattered. If Annalise had been throwing a party in her room, Rai would have smashed in the window, grabbed the dress, and run. He wasn’t sure what qualified as stealth, but he wasn’t about to show up to class empty-handed.

He squinted at the window, looking at it out of the corner of his eyes to see the protective runes written on the sill. Well, it was too late for that anyway. He hastily wrote out some basic runes that he hoped were the right ones to trick any protections and kicked open the window.

The hinges broke off, and Rai realized they weren’t meant to open that way. He jumped through, eyes frantically searching for the gown. Well, of course, it would be in the wardrobe, he thought, his mind racing.

–  –  –

He threw open the doors of the wardrobe and frantically rifled through the dresses. Pink, pink, it had to be in here somewhere.

“What, exactly, do you think you’re doing?” a voice said slowly, crisply biting off each word.

Rai froze, swearing darkly. Turning slowly, he saw that Lady Annalise was standing in the doorway, one hand already half-raised to draw a rune if the situation called for it.

–  –  –

Rai couldn’t help it, a lopsided grin slid across his face. He bowed. “At your service, Lady Emberlynn.” “Well, be that as it may, I would hardly expect to find you in my wardrobe,” she said, although her tone was more amused than angry.

“Just a silly little assignment for the Thief major,” he said in his most disarming tone.

“You were right, I’m afraid, that a major like this is bound to get anyone in trouble, even if they have the best intentions.” “So you were trying to steal from me?” Her tone seemed to darken. “And what were you after?”

–  –  –

“A gown!” Her eyes danced with amusement. “I hardly think it would suit you.” Rai tilted his head down slightly and looked up at her with what he had been told was an irresistible and somewhat uncanny imitation of a puppy’s eyes. “It’s for my assignment, you see.

We had to steal something, and I thought, I don’t know why, but that I ought to take something of yours.”

–  –  –

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