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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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Gossip like that travels quickly.” “It was for an assignment I was working on.” “What kind of assignment?” Wisteria turned a page in her book.

“A Thief assignment,” Rai said darkly. He gripped the crumpled letter in his pocket, and reveled in the crinkling sound it made. “One that didn’t end well.” “Sorry to hear that.” Wisteria closed her book. “It sounded like you had done well for yourself.” “High marks for Roguish Charm.” “Of course,” Wisteria snorted.

“But, the dress was too expensive,” Rai sighed. “A penalty for not noticing that detail.” “Aren’t Thieves supposed to be interested in expensive things?” “Thieves are supposed to be interested in the right kind of expensive thing,” Rai corrected. “Guess I’m not cut out to be a Thief.” “You’re not,” Wisteria agreed.

–  –  –

“You said it yourself,” she added.

“I was hoping to garner some sympathy.” “From me?” Wisteria asked with a flippant grin.

Rai couldn’t help chuckling.

“But, really, you don’t enjoy Thieving; I don’t know why you pursue it in the first place.”

–  –  –

“You can never find your classes or your classmates; you’re always complaining of low marks,” Wisteria pointed out. “You were obviously interested enough in Cleric-work to take four years of it at some fancy preparatory school. Why become a Thief instead?” Her comment annoyed him, and he looked away. “I’m surprised you remember all of that.” “It’s hard to block it all out when you go on and on about your life,” Wisteria told him.

“And you didn’t answer my question.” “Why I’m training to be a Thief?” Rai sighed. “I have my reasons.” “I hope you do,” Wisteria said seriously. There was an awkward pause before Wisteria continued, “I wouldn’t worry about the penalty though. If you really want to become a Thief…”

–  –  –

“…you probably just need a little more practice. Four years of Thieving, and you’ll be arguing with your Thief partner about proper technique.” She gave a small, rare smile.

Rai smiled back. “Thieves work alone.” “I’m sure you’ll find someone to argue with then,” Wisteria replied. They both turned to look at the clock tower as the curfew bells tolled. Wisteria tucked her book under her arm and stood. Rai walked with her back to Drop Tower.

–  –  –

Averi returned to her room, wishing more than anything that she could remain hidden there for the rest of the week. She was a few scant minutes past the second curfew bell ringing— not late enough to get in trouble, but late enough that her roommate was already there.

“That was a disaster,” she remarked offhandedly to Wisteria, who was on her side of the room, calmly reading the same book Averi always saw her holding.

“Oh?” Wisteria asked half-heartedly, not looking up.

Averi shot her roommate a cross look. “Never mind. I suppose you wouldn’t understand.” “Probably,” Wisteria agreed, almost sounding cheerful.

Averi sighed. She was dreading the next Thief class, dreading seeing Shadow and Shade, and most of all dreading the failing grade that she was sure she would get. But she was resigned to all of these inevitable consequences for her abysmal work.

Still, she was not at all prepared to find a letter on her bed, addressed to her in the coded script that the Thief professors used for low-priority communications.

Without hesitating, Averi ripped open the letter and read it quickly, pausing only to check her deciphering. When she had finished, she set the letter down and rubbed her forehead. The

letter read:

We regret to inform you that the Stolen Item (Sword) taken from the target was found to be beyond the allowable scope of value for a Stolen Item for this assignment. The Stolen Item (Sword) has been appraised at a Level Ten Sentimental Value. Consequently, you will be required to take The Ethics of Thieving next quarter in order to continue your studies at Eastridge Academy: School for Adventurers.

–  –  –

There was no signature or greeting—the Thief Major didn’t believe in writing down information that could be traced back to anyone—but Averi knew that it could be no mistake.

After how furiously Torrent had reacted, even Averi had to admit that the sword must have been extremely important for reasons that had nothing to do with its Market Price.

Averi reclined on her bed looking up at the ceiling. She knew she should feel the unfairness of the situation, that she should protest that she had done everything she could to ascertain the Sentimental Value of the sword before she took it. However, there was some part of her that argued, even if she had known, wouldn’t she still have taken it? And because of that, Averi thought it better to not protest the extra coursework.

~*~ The hour between dinner and curfew was one of the few times that the boys and girls were allowed to mingle unsupervised. At The University for Arcane Magics, such a time was utterly unheard of, so of course at Eastridge, it was Averi’s favorite time of day. On most evenings, she and about half the first and second-year students could be found in the Library of Drop Tower, visiting friends and sharing rumors.

Tonight, however, Averi would have guessed that every last first- and second- year was crammed into the Library of Drop Tower. The usual hushed murmurs of gossip were replaced by a loud and steady hum that reverberated through the room.

She could hear the snatches of whispers floating around the room and see the way people eyed her and Torrent. Was it really true, everyone wanted to know, that last night, Torrent had thrashed half the second-year class in a fit of rage? And some first-year had threatened Torrent and walked away without a scratch? And, what was the most unbelievable, that the Princess had stolen Torrent’s sword?

–  –  –

It was unbelievable, they were all saying. Well, nearly. Averi hid a smile.

Torrent and the toughest of the second-year Warriors had claimed the back corner of the room, some casually defacing books and others chipping away at the wooden furniture with spare knives and daggers. Torrent and Rakam lounged in chairs near the wall, their feet and weapons propped up on the table. More than one person within Averi’s earshot claimed to see Torrent watching the Princess out of the corner of his eye.

Which, however, wasn’t so unusual when one took into account that nearly every boy in the room spent half the night watching the Princess and Annalise. Sitting at the center of the room and surrounded by nobility, Averi and Annalise seemed to preside over a younger version of the Royal Court. Averi was only half listening to the nobility tonight. It was difficult to let them hold her attention, particularly when there was so much gossip filling the air.

But Averi couldn’t ignore Phaeton when he leaned flirtatiously close to her to whisper, “I wouldn’t ever ask you if it did happen or didn’t, but if you did, it was an impressive thing to do.” Averi laughed politely and gave Phaeton a small shove back to a respectful distance.

“What a very pointed remark,” she observed.

“How did you do it?” Trevon Harting asked, his voice conspiratorially low. “I’d do anything to know, Princess.” Averi waved her hand dismissively. “A good Thief never reveals her secrets.” “So you admit it?” he demanded, grinning in triumph.

“I made an observation,” Averi said, shaking her head at him. “I’ll admit nothing.” “You’re too beautiful to be a Thief,” Phaeton informed her, gazing into her eyes. “And even if you confessed, no one would dare lay a hand on you.”

–  –  –

“Your eyes are too innocent,” Trevon pointed out, elbowing Phaeton out of the way. “No one would believe it.” Averi could only smile politely at the compliments and hope that the topic would turn to something more conversational than her eyes. In Averi’s silence, Phaeton stomped on Trevon’s foot, and the two excused themselves to have a word away from the ladies.

After the two boys left, Annalise delicately cleared her throat to get Averi’s attention. “I would never question your judgment, Princess,” Annalise said in a lofty tone. “However, I would consider myself remiss if I didn’t give you the benefit of my experience.” “Oh, Lady Annalise, please,” Averi said archly, “benefit me.” Annalise dropped her voice. “You must know that while none of the nobility here would dare to speak behind your back, the lower classes have no such tact, and at this school, they are the majority.” “Your meaning, Lady Annalise?” Annalise smiled thinly. “People gossip, Princess. And tonight, they gossip about you.

There are only a handful of reasons why a girl would steal a boy’s sword, and why he would let her get away with it. And even worse, why some low-born commoner would come to her defense.” “And am I to concern myself over every rumor?” Averi asked, looking around the circle.

Lady Calla-Lily was oddly quiet, and Lady Nadine didn’t meet her eyes.

“You should concern yourself with making sure that the rumors are not true,” Annalise said, gesturing over at Torrent.

–  –  –

Averi looked where she pointed and caught the Warrior staring at the two of them. Averi blushed, at a loss for words. Fortunately, the clock tower tolled the beginning of curfew, and the students hastened to get to their rooms.

As they left, Calla-Lily St. Claire pulled Averi back.

“Jealousy is never pretty, is it?” she asked Averi in a whisper so quiet that Averi hardly heard her. “You know why our dear Lady Annalise is concerned for you, don’t you?” Averi shook her head, and Calla-Lily smiled.

“It’s a scandalous thing for a noble lady to be implicated in a rumor with a commoner,” Calla-Lily said. “And last year, there was quite a similar scandal about the dear Warrior Torrent.” “Oh?” Averi asked, trying to sound casual. “And the girl?” “Couldn’t you guess?” Calla-Lily asked, batting her eyes innocently. “The girl was Annalise.” ~*~ For about a day after the incident in the training room, Fell was a hero. It took a few hours for the rumors to circulate, and for Javen, Cai, and all of the other first-year Warrior majors to believe what had happened. Javen was the first to come around.

“So you really did it, didn’t you?” Javen had asked Fell the night after the incident with Torrent and Averi. “You took on Torrent. And walked away clean.” Fell shook his head. “It wasn’t exactly like that.” Javen grinned. “So tell me.” “He was going to hurt the Princess. I just pushed him away from her. Anyone else would have done the same thing,” Fell said with a shrug. “And actually, I didn’t really do anything.”

–  –  –

Javen shook his head. “You stood up to Torrent. Torrent, Fell. And you’re still alive.

That’s something right there. None of the first-years can say they’ve done as much.” After that conversation, Javen must have spread the word to the others. Cai slapped Fell on the back during their shift working at the stables. Vinden congratulated him at dinner. A small group of first-years even applauded when Fell entered the Warrior wing of Drop Tower that night.

Fell had nearly an entire day to enjoy the praises of the first-year Warriors. Fell knew he wouldn’t have longer than that. But all in all, for once, it had been a nice weekend.

As he woke up the following morning, Fell knew that his time was up. He entered the Sparring Grounds that day, grimly resigned to his fate.

When they paired up for sparring, Torrent nearly punched another second-year for almost claiming Fell.

–  –  –

Class began. Torrent didn’t say anything. He started cracking his knuckles.

“You can’t kill me,” Fell pointed out, backing up a step. “They don’t let you do that.” “Accidents happen,” Torrent told him.

Fell gulped. He noticed that Torrent had picked one of the rocky sparring rings. Fell tried to keep his eyes on Torrent, and nearly lost his balance on the uneven surface.

Torrent laughed, walking up to Fell without so much as a glance at the rocks they were standing on. Torrent slapped his hand into his fist, then pulled back and threw a punch at Fell.

But the blow didn’t land.

Fell had watched Torrent’s body. Fell had predicted his move. And Fell had dodged.

–  –  –

Torrent, for the first time in a long time, had missed. More than a few Warriors noticed.

Sparring around them stopped. Everyone watched.

For the slightest moment, Fell thought that Torrent looked surprised. Then the moment was over, and Torrent swung again, faster this time. Fell tried to move, but Torrent’s fist connected with his chest.

The pain left Fell dazed and before he could recover, Torrent was pummeling his stomach and sides with sharp jabs. Fell fell back, landing hard on the rocks. He tried to move and groaned. At least a couple of his ribs were broken.

Torrent cracked his knuckles, waiting for Fell to get up.

Torrent fights with his hands, Fell thought as he rolled to his feet.

Fell was ready this time. Torrent feinted to the left. Fell dodged right, realizing too late that he had been tricked. Torrent caught Fell’s head with a powerful right hook.

Splashes of bright light exploded in Fell’s vision. He backed away, trying to buy himself a few seconds while he waited for his head to clear.

Torrent walked calmly towards Fell, with a slowness that in the past had lulled Fell into believing the older boy wasn’t fast.

Fell realized grimly that just reacting wasn’t enough. Torrent was too quick. Thinking back to the first swing that he had dodged, Fell realized with a sickening feeling that Torrent had been holding back.

But Torrent wasn’t holding back now. Fell would never be able to dodge. The realization set in, and Fell stopped backing away.

Torrent stepped up to Fell, trying to read him. “Try it,” Torrent said. “Try to hit me.”

–  –  –

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