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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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“And why is that?” she asked, but Rai could tell by the blush slowly creeping into her cheeks that she had already come to her own conclusions.

“It’ll seem foolish to you, I’m sure,” he drawled, “but I wanted something of yours. You must know that all the first-year boys talk about is you.” Annalise smiled, but her eyes told Rai that she wasn’t entirely fooled. “Well, I would hate for you to fail your assignment. What sort of dress were you looking for? Something to match your eyes?” “I was rather thinking something in pink,” he said.

Annalise’s eyes narrowed slightly at his words. “I don’t particularly like pink. I hardly ever wear it.” “Even better,” he said. Glancing back at the wardrobe, he saw it at last, tucked into the back corner. He pulled it out. “You won’t miss it when it’s gone.” Annalise looked as though she wanted to protest, but Rai quickly added, “Unless there’s some sort of reason why I can’t borrow it. I’d return it, of course, by tonight.” “No, no reason,” Annalise said slowly. Her expression looked like she was weighing her options. “But, do be careful with it. It was a gift from my mother, and it has great value to me. I should take it much amiss if anything were to happen to it.” Rai grinned. “I’ll see to it, Lady Emberlynn, that no harm befalls it.” Rai thought he was about to get away cleanly, and with a good five minutes to spare, when Peony, Calla-Lily, and Nadine walked through the door.

“What is he doing in here?” Calla-Lily asked, “And why is he holding that dress?” “I’ve been robbed,” Annalise said seriously, but her smile betrayed her. “Someone, some Thief, has stolen my gown.”

–  –  –

Peony, who was the first to understand, giggled. “Why, what a scandal.” “And he’s taken the pink gown, too,” Nadine observed. “He must have excellent taste.” “But no sense of seasonal fashion,” Peony pointed out. “Unless he plans to wait till spring to wear it.” “Oh, my, you shouldn’t have told him that,” Annalise said. “Now he’ll think he must strike again to procure something more fashionable.” “Better lock your wardrobes, girls,” Calla-Lily St. Claire said slyly.

Rai took their teasing in stride, casually edging closer to the window as they spoke. After Calla-Lily’s comment, he smiled, bowing low to them with the dress draped over one arm.

“Ladies,” he said, and casually jumped out the window.

He could hear their gasps and was tempted to look back, but he knew it would be far more impressive if he was gone by the time they looked over the ledge. As he darted away, he could hear Nadine stammering, “But, where did he go?” ~*~ Thief class was held on the Sparring Grounds that evening, and as Rai neared, he could see first-years toting their targets’ various prized possessions. Amidst the circus of more than a few horses, some furniture, and trinkets of value, Rai found Averi.

“Good evening,” Rai said, ducking under the broadsword she was holding. “Glad to see you were successful.” “Me too, but it wasn’t so bad. How about you?” Averi asked.

“Went better than I expected.” Rai brandished the dress with a flourish. “What do you think?”

–  –  –

“In my opinion,” Averi said, giving him the once-over, “that color does nothing for your complexion.” “Hah, hah,” Rai mock-laughed, as he darted to save the pink dress from slipping off its hanger again. It was ridiculously voluminous and hard to manage, and he had to keep readjusting it. He didn’t think sweet-talking would save him from Lady Annalise if he dropped one of her favorite gowns into the mud of the Sparring Grounds.

“Hello, first-years,” Professor Nianzu boomed, and several students jumped as she appeared a moment later with a slew of upperclassmen. “Congratulations on the completion of your first real assignment. I hope you all have something to show for your efforts...” There was a murmur of excitement, quickly quieted by Nianzu continuing, “…because you have until the next class period to return the stolen article to the original owner without detection.” There was a collective groan. Nianzu smiled without sympathy and clapped her hands to signal the upperclassman forward. “That is your assignment. The rest of class will be devoted to evaluation of the trial thus far. This last week, I’ve had your mentors tail you to ensure you’ve been operating according to the Thief’s Handbook. Grades are on a twenty-point scale, and two mentors will grade each of you according to criteria they’ve invented.” Rai hoped he heard the last part incorrectly.

Nianzu call the first student forward—a nervous-looking ‘Aloric, Vane’ from Rai’s healing class stepped up to the dais Nianzu was standing on. Two upperclassmen materialized beside him, and poor Vane jumped. One of the upperclassmen steadied him.

“Thief Aloric, your token, please?”

–  –  –

The first-year carefully pulled a small locket wrapped in gift-paper from his pocket.

Nianzu nodded approvingly and turned to Vane’s mentors. “Rhyll? Pleiades? Your thoughts.” “Rhyll reporting on Thief Aloric,” said the male of the two Thieves. “Five marks each for finding a target, following her without detection, and stealing the artifact without a hitch.” “But,” Rhyll’s female partner Pleiades said, before Vane could look too pleased, “zero points for being suave. Really, attaching branches to your hat for camouflage? Not the latest style in Thief trends.” She gave him a hearty slap on the back for good measure to signal his exit from the stage. “Fifteen.” Vane stumbled down into the crowd, disbelief clearly written across his face.

Nianzu called the next name on the list. Apparently, Rai hadn’t heard wrong when Nianzu had said it was up to the mentors to choose the grading criteria. Most of the students were graded normally on following their target, finding an object, and stealing it. A few unlucky ones, however, were graded on Inappropriate Apparel for Nighttime Snooping (-3 points), TreeClimbing Technique (-6 points), and Ducking with Dignity (-4 points), among others.

Good grades were few and far between. Despite his perpetual concern for his grade, Lyre Cross managed to get high marks for his theft of an unassuming white book, earning the bulk of his points for something called Double-Stalking a Target (+8 points), which seemed to mean that he had chosen a target who already had a Thief stalking him. Sariil Darek, on the other hand, got questionable marks for a Superfluous Overuse of Magic (-4 points) and a flat out deduction for Lack of Style (-5 points).

Rai prayed his mentors had a good sense of humor.

–  –  –

“Interesting choice,” Nianzu murmured. She gestured to Rai’s mentors. “Silhouette?

Jacey?” Rai recognized Jacey as the blonde Thief who had laughed at him the first time he had come to class barefoot.

“After deliberation between two female targets, Thief Ravin successfully identified an article close to one of his female targets within the bounds of limitations,” Silhouette started in monotone, gesturing to the dress. “However, in his attempts to actually steal said article, the target discovered Thief Ravin’s presence and objected.” “I notice that, despite the target’s discovery, the stolen article is here.” Nianzu lifted an eyebrow at Rai Ravin. “How, pray tell, did you still manage to steal the item after being detected?” “Professor, I simply talked the female target out of her dress,” Rai remarked with a cheeky grin, and a wave of mostly male laughter erupted. Rai was fairly sure he heard Jacey snicker. Silhouette just stared at him icily.

Rai hoped that beneath Professor Nianzu’s mask was an amused grin. Turning to Jacey and Silhouette, she asked, “Final Mark?” “Negative five points for getting caught,” Silhouette said, a little too sharply. “Ten points for choosing a difficult target—a second-year Mage. Three points for gathering information on the subject’s token.”

–  –  –

“But,” Jacey continued, with a smile at her charge, “Full credit for Roguish Charm, which counts for a lot more than you might expect.”

–  –  –

“Fifteen,” Jacey announced, as a final verdict, and Rai leaped down the stairs, the joy of his first relative victory in Thief class boosting his mood.

Averi’s name was called, and Rai smiled at her as she walked up to the platform.

Two identical, black-clad figures of the same height, build, and, oddly, face came to stand on either side of Averi once she had made it to the stairs. They looked remarkably like male versions of Rai’s mentor Silhouette. Rai vaguely remembered hearing somewhere that the three were triplets in the Thief major.

“Shade? Shadow?” Nianzu prodded, as Averi held the sword out with one hand.

Both nodded in tandem, and any chance of distinguishing them from each other by name was lost to Rai. He wondered if Averi noticed the difference.

“Thief Rysten successfully stalked her target,” one of the triplets—who Rai randomly guessed was Shade—said.

The other one interrupted, “She chose a difficult assignment, which counts for something.

A notorious, second-year who some of you may know as Tor—oh, we’re not supposed to mention names.” Not that it mattered, since many Thieves gave an appreciative chuckle, having recognized the target by the massive sword alone.

“Honestly, we were glad to see her pull it off. He needed to be taken down a peg or two,” the first one said. “So…full credit for Target Choice.” “And, taking the sword!” Shadow glowed, “Risky, but that’s not bad for a Thief. Full credit for Taking on a Daunting Task.” “It’s not easy task to steal a sword that’s nearly as big as yourself,” Shade said. “The magic was a nice touch. Points for Aptly Appropriate Use of Magic…”

–  –  –

Nianzu cleared her throat, and catching his professor’s glare, Shadow said, “And, so as far as final marks, it looks like Thief Rysten has earned herself a perfect score...” Averi looked relieved. Rai caught her eye and winked at her. She smiled back at him as Shade put a friendly hand on her shoulder.

“Just don’t botch the return,” he said with a smile.

–  –  –

If Averi had known that she would be required to return the item she stole, she probably would have gone after an easier item than a massive broadsword that she could barely lift. Thief class had ended abruptly and everyone had dispersed into the twilight to return their items. A few lucky students were only coaxing stolen horses back to the stables, which were hardly guarded to begin with. Others had slipped away into the shadows to track down their targets so they could replace the items from where they had taken them. Averi sighed, thinking longingly of lockets, rings, and other trinkets that could be easily slipped back into a pocket or satchel before the victim even realized the object was missing.

But such thoughts did Averi little good as she lugged the five-foot sword towards Drop Tower, muttering curses under her breath as her fingers fumbled to retrace the Lift Rune. She had enacted the Lift Rune when she had taken the sword to class, but only now that she was actually walking with it, attempting to stealthily slide through the night, did the rune wear off and leave her with the impossibly heavy piece of metal that she strained to pull even a few feet at a time.

Twice, as she pulled at it, she mixed up the Lift Rune with the Light Rune, causing a burst of white light to emanate around her, which she could hardly imagine would win her any points for Stealth. Once, she nearly etched the Shatter Rune, but luckily, she recognized her mistake before she executed the spell.

Finally, she stopped dead in the center of the path, and in the light of the half-full moon, etched out the Lift Rune and pushed it impatiently towards the sword. Immediately, the weight that had been pulling at her disappeared so drastically that she nearly fell over.

–  –  –

Quickly recovering her balance, Averi crept into the safe covering of the shadows. She leaned against the base of a tree to catch her breath. So, where would Torrent be? Her first guess was the Warrior wing of Drop Tower, so she started her search there. She could have entered through the main door, but she didn’t want to risk being seen by anyone while her Thief mentors were still probably watching her.

Now that she was near the building, Averi took the time to trace out the long and complicated Invisibility Rune. She watched as the sword flickered in her hand and disappeared.

So far so good, she thought. Next she set to work tracing the same rune on the back of her hand.

It was more complicated for people than for objects, and it only lasted as long as she kept her concentration on the spell, but she couldn’t think of any other way to avoid being seen. The Hide Rune wouldn’t be good enough, not for what she had to do. Besides, unlike when she had stolen the sword, she had plenty of time to get it right.

She wrote the Invisibility Rune without making any mistakes. No problems, as long as there’s no pressure, she thought ruefully, as she activated the rune. She took a deep breath, letting her concentration settle evenly over the runes she was holding in place. The Invisibility Rune was no small magic, and she knew she could hold it in place for only a matter of minutes.

It would have to be enough.

Through an open window, she slid into the Warrior wing of Drop Tower. She slunk down the hallway towards the training room at the end of the hall. Part of the Thief major’s required reading was the blueprints to Drop Tower, so Averi knew exactly where to go. She found the room easily and glanced in through the open door.

–  –  –

Fell was in there, determinedly pounding a punching bag in the farthest corner of the room. In the middle of the room, there was a scattered assortment of second-years that Averi had seen during her time as a Warrior minor. At the center of the group was Torrent.

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