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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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“Speak, don’t think.” This was it. Rai could tell. His answer right now would determine whether or not he got into Eastridge. How could this crazy woman ask him not to think when his future hung in the balance? But if that was the only way...

“I want to break the rules,” he said, feeling vulnerable about telling the truth.

–  –  –

“All my life, I’ve followed my father’s rules. I’ve watched obedience ruin the lives of those I love, and I refuse to let it happen to me. I want to be a Cleric so that I can help others, but I want to become a Thief so I can help myself,” Rai stopped, uncertain.

Nianzu nodded, stacking the papers she was holding. “This concludes the question-andanswer portion of this interview. Now for the performance assessment.” “Performance?” Rai asked warily.

–  –  –

“You’re applying to be a Thief,” Nianzu said very seriously. “It wouldn’t be much of an interview if you didn’t steal something.” ~*~ The coin was thick, copper, and inscribed with a number on one side and a crow on the other. It was small enough to fit in the palm of Averi’s hand, and she had absolutely no idea what to do with it.

She turned it over in her fingers, then replaced it in the pocket of her gown. She rose from her seat on the cushioned chair and took a few steps out of the alcove she had been waiting in.

Resting her hand on one of the bookcases, she looked around at the other candidates to see if they had figured anything out.

All around the room, the applicants mingled, some discussing the coins, others comparing the particulars of their interviews. Most of them seemed to think the professors were done evaluating them, but Averi had a feeling that these coins meant it wasn’t over yet.

Though what the professors had planned next, Averi had no idea. After three hours of grueling examination, which had ranged from casting a series of advanced runes to describing the most efficient way to deal with an attack from behind, Averi wasn’t in much of a condition to think. After the examination, they told her she had passed that portion of the interviews and had simply handed her this coin. The only explanation they had given her was to hold onto it.

Then they had released her and fifty other candidates into the school’s library.

Averi frowned. She had to figure it out. If she weren’t accepted, she’d be sent back to the University of Arcane Magics, where she’d learn little more than flower arranging and magical parlor tricks.

–  –  –

Averi was sure she was missing something. Why had they given her the coin? Just to hold it? Nothing about the interviews for Eastridge Academy: School for Adventurers could be this straightforward.

–  –  –

No, there had to be some sort of trick, Averi thought. She reached down into her pocket for her coin, but instead of copper, her hand fumbled against something that felt suspiciously like fingers.

Stifling a gasp, she grabbed the hand in her pocket and spun around to face its owner.

At first, she couldn’t see him clearly; his face seemed to melt into the shadows, and her eyes slid over him without finding anything to hold on to.

“You can drop the Hide Rune,” Averi said. “I’ve already seen you, and I’m not letting go.” In an instant, she saw the magic flicker and disappear, and she was looking up at a brown-haired boy. The first thing she noticed was his smile. Despite the situation, it was nearly a grin, lopsided, like he was sharing a private joke with her.

“Well, this is awkward,” he said.

“What were you trying to do exactly?” she asked, releasing him to check her pocket for her coin.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t worry, I didn’t get it. Your token’s safe.”

–  –  –

“Your place at Eastridge. The coin,” he explained. “Didn’t you figure it out? Warriors, Mages, and Clerics earn their way in at Eastridge on skill. But if you’re a Thief, you have to steal your place from someone else.”

–  –  –

“That’s terrible,” Averi said.

“It makes a kind of sense,” he said indifferently. “You wouldn’t be much of an adventurer if you let your guard down.” “And what, you thought I would be an easy target?” He gave an unapologetic shrug. “A Princess of Easden? I didn’t exactly think you were used to carrying around pocket change.” Averi winced at the title. “What gave me away? I thought I looked inconspicuous,” she said, gesturing to the simple light brown gown she wore.

“You mean, aside from the platinum blonde hair and the amber eyes deep enough to drown in?” he asked with a chuckle to show he was only joking. “To be honest, I recognized you from the last time I was in the Royal City.” “Oh,” Averi said, looking him over and trying to place him. From his clothes, he might be one of the lower nobility, and in that case, she might have known his family. But before she could ask, the clock began to chime the hour.

“Unfortunately, Princess,” he said, glancing at the clock, “since you’ve been most unobliging with your token, I really must be going.” She didn’t see him write out the rune, but his face shifted under her gaze, and he darted away before she could stop him. She tried to see where he went, but in the dimly lit room, it was impossible to tell.

Averi closed her hand around her coin, daring to feel hopeful. She had made it past the final test. She was going to attend Eastridge Academy. She looked around the room, realizing that of the candidates here, many would be her future classmates.

–  –  –

Thinking of her thief, she frowned. Though he had tried to steal her spot, she couldn’t help being charmed by him. To her surprise, she unabashedly found herself hoping he would have better luck with his next target… and that she would someday see him at Eastridge.

At the conclusion of the test, the applicants were all released, with the promise that their results would be sent to them shortly. Averi left the Library and found her parents waiting for her in an ornate coach.

“So?” her mother asked. “How was it?” “I think it went well,” Averi said hesitantly as she climbed into the carriage.

Her mother sighed fretfully. Only after much convincing had she begrudgingly agreed that if Averi were accepted at Eastridge, she would be allowed to attend. Averi looked out the window as the carriage began to move, clattering down the road back to the Royal Palace. Her father drew her mother near, and Averi focused on the passing scenery to give them some privacy. Her father always knew how to reassure her mother.

“I just don’t like it,” Averi’s mother muttered.

Her father laughed, taking her mother’s hand. “There’s nothing to be done now, Aciana.

Averi always would prefer the company of her brothers and cousins when they rambled about the palace…” He leaned in to whisper to Averi’s mother, but Averi could still hear him saying, “I don’t think she ever forgave herself for not being able to go with them when they went off to fight in the war. And she’s never forgotten what happened to her brother.” “When she’s old enough, I doubt anything short of death will keep her from fighting.

And there’s precious little good that flower arranging will do her in that case,” Averi’s mother said with a sigh.

–  –  –

~*~ Wisteria was furious. She heard shouting coming from behind the heavy wooden doors, but she barely spared it a passing thought as she flung them open.

“You have turned Ling Monastery into a fortress,” the soldier was saying tersely. “What I am asking you is why.” Wisteria was disappointed when the long-time Keeper of the Ling Monastery, Yui Wei Ling, did not blink when the wooden door to her office burst open with a loud ‘thud’.

The Initiate who guarded Yui Wei’s door stumbled in after Wisteria, stammering protests that Wisteria ignored as she strode heavily into the room, fury in bright, hazel eyes and anger contorting her features.

Yui Wei eyed Wisteria. “It’s a pity you’re so transparently temperamental.”

–  –  –

“It’s going to give you wrinkles when you’re older.” Yui Wei folded the stack of messages she was reading and dismissed the Initiate with a nod. “My apologies for the interruption. Dealing with my daughter should only take a moment,” she said to the soldier, and to her daughter, “Yes, Wisteria?” “Don’t pretend that you’ve no idea why I’m here!” Wisteria didn’t so much as glance at her mother’s visitor as she slammed a piece of thin parchment paper onto the table. Yui Wei took it gingerly.

–  –  –

Eastridge Academy: School for Adventurers, in the Mage and Cleric majors, under which you applied. Please note that all official materials henceforth will reference you

–  –  –

Yui Wei watched as her daughter plucked the letter out from her hands and threw it into the fire in the hearth. The letter exploded, and the magic that was infused into the paper to keep it from weathering dissolved into sprays of purple and green. The paper curled and burned.

“You have such a flare for dramatics,” Yui Wei observed with a calm that Wisteria both despised and envied.

“Dramatic? I guess changing my name to Raven was subtle?” “It’s common for students at Eastridge to take a new name when they begin training there.”

–  –  –

“You haven’t earned the right to use the monastery’s name outside these walls,” Yui Wei said.

“But Raven?” Wisteria asked. “You could’ve at least asked me.” “I’ve been told it’s the most common name students take at Eastridge. I thought it would help you blend in.”

–  –  –

“You’re being needlessly rebellious,” Yui Wei said.

“Likely because of your tendency to relentlessly control my life.” Yui Wei’s mouth twitched. “Eastridge is a fine school. Though if I’m not mistaken, Orientation begins tomorrow. Shouldn’t your carriage be halfway there by now?”

–  –  –

“You’re not?” Her mother had the gall to look surprised. The knot in Wisteria’s stomach tightened.

“Why are you sending me to a school I never applied to?” Wisteria slapped the desk with her open palm, sending papers, quills, and a glass paperweight toppling to the floor.

Yui Wei straightened. “I found a good opportunity for you.”

–  –  –

“I don’t have time for a full discussion,” Yui Wei retorted, gesturing at the man sitting across the desk.

“Who is this? Why is there a soldier in the monastery?” Wisteria asked, for the first time giving her full attention to the man’s armor and the crest of the Emperor on his chest.

The man seemed about to reply, but Yui Wei answered for him. “This doesn’t concern you.” Wisteria looked from the soldier to her mother. “I didn’t realize you were in the habit of keeping secrets from me.” “It’s necessary,” Yui Wei told her. “Just like your attendance at Eastridge.” “Necessary? I’m staying here. I have no intention of leaving.” “I understand your intentions,” Yui Wei said. “I am ignoring them.”

–  –  –

“You’re ignoring them?” Wisteria stifled a scream. “Don’t you care about my happiness at all?” “Raising your voice sufficiently conveys your disbelief, but I assure you, it does nothing to change my mind,” Yui Wei said, eyes flashing. “Stop being childish. This is what’s best for you and your training. Now, if there’s nothing else, go pack. You leave for Eastridge at dawn.” “Mother…” Wisteria started, in a softer tone. With a glance at the stranger, she drew close to her mother and spoke quietly so he couldn’t hear. “You have no idea what leaving would do to me. Everything I know and love is here in this monastery. I couldn’t leave. I can’t.” Yui Wei gave her daughter a hard, skeptical glare. “We will have to see about that.” “You would sacrifice me to a pack of wolves if the opportunity presented itself!” Gone was any softness in tone or manner. Wisteria cast a disdainful look at her mother and crossed the room in quick strides.

“That is a ridiculous idea,” Yui Wei said as Wisteria threw open her door. “Wolves don’t venture this far up the mountain.”

–  –  –

Averi watched with wide eyes as a black-haired Rawenese boy brought a shield up to block the battleaxe that had just been thrown at his head. Averi gasped, and the boy glanced at her and quickly winked before launching himself back into the fight. The battle was only one of several that were taking place in the Coliseum. Averi stood with the other first-year students just outside the Coliseum, waiting for Orientation.

Suddenly, a heavy tolling rang through the arena, and when it died down, the Headmistress stepped up to the front of the group. “Good afternoon, students. I am Headmistress Sansdarth.” The words somehow carried over the clash of the weapons, and immediately a silence fell over the anxious first-years of Eastridge Academy. Averi shifted forward to get a better view of the woman at the center of the arena. Her grayed hair was pulled back tightly, and her sharp eyes skimmed the eager crowd that stood around her.

“This is our Coliseum where tournaments and the Rankings are held,” Sansdarth said.

“As you can see, it’s capable of accommodating dozens of fights simultaneously.” As Sansdarth continued to talk about the Coliseum, Averi let her eyes wander over the large marble pillars and the rows and rows of seats that lined the stadium. She’d often heard from her brothers about the intense battles that were waged here by the students. She felt a nervous flutter in her stomach. She was actually here at Eastridge. This was real.

Sansdarth finished pointing out the entrances and exits. “Now come this way,” she said, turning.

–  –  –

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