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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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Averi and the other first-years followed her out of the Coliseum through the double arches and up the stairs leading to the base of the clock tower. Averi wished she had chosen something more practical to wear instead of the pale yellow gown and heeled shoes that her maid had laid out for her. Gathering her skirts, she was looking dubiously at the steep staircase when a voice broke through her thoughts.

–  –  –

She found herself looking up into the deep brown eyes of a boy nearly a foot taller than her. He had an honest face framed by long, sandy brown hair, and he was frowning with concern.

“You look like you might need a hand,” he added, suddenly looking embarrassed.

“Yes,” Averi said, a blush creeping across her cheeks. Only a few minutes into orientation, and already she looked like she could hardly climb a staircase much less become an adventurer. “Thank you.” She linked her hand around his arm, holding tight to keep herself balanced, and they began climbing at the back of the crowd. “I didn’t catch your name.”

–  –  –

Sansdarth gestured to the crest of the hill Eastridge was built on, where several imposing buildings were situated. “Here, you’ll find the Headmaster’s Hall, your classrooms, and the clock tower.” “Are those… students?” Fell asked, pointing to the black-clad figures scaling up the clock tower.

–  –  –

“Thieves, I’d imagine,” Averi said, as one reached the top and melted into the shadows of the belfry.

From the clock tower, Sansdarth led them down a set of stairs that circled the outside of the Coliseum. The stairs opened up onto the lower level where gardens leading to both the forest and the Library sprouted in the west. Along the outside of the Library, Mages and Clerics lounged on the benches, reading through scrolls and practicing magic. Averi saw Fell wince as a burst of fire scorched the air.

“On the eastern side of the Coliseum,” Sansdarth said, “you’ll find the Infirmary and the Sparring Grounds. Don’t forget that after lunch, Mage and Cleric students must report to the Coliseum to test into casting classes. Warriors, report to the Sparring Grounds for equipment training.” They made their way down the winding stairs to the lowest level. When they reached the bottom, Averi reluctantly pulled her hand away from Fell. She gave him a small, grateful smile.

“And here,” Sansdarth said with a gesture, “is where you’ll be living.” The dorms, the dining commons, and the student gardens sprawled in front of them. “Welcome home.” With that, Sansdarth dismissed them to find their rooms. All the first years were living in Drop Tower, the girls on the second floor and the boys on the first. Averi and Fell parted ways to search for their rooms.

Averi headed to the west wing with the other Mage majors. The hallway was strewn with thick sets of rune books, enchanted objects, and scorched armor and training gear as well as students enthusiastically moving in. At the end of the hall, she found her room. She unlocked the door and pushed it open.

–  –  –

The room was smaller than she had expected, especially for two people. On each side, there was a low bed and a sturdy, wooden desk, along with a wardrobe. Her side was already piled high with the trunks and books her servants had carried in earlier. The floor was polished hardwood, and the walls were painted a soft cream color. Above the door, there was an etching of a phoenix carrying a black opal, which Averi supposed made sense: there would be a tribute to the legendary Mage Kaethe in the rooms of the Mages in this dormitory. She had only just closed the door behind her when it was flung open.

A petite, half-Nornese girl with long, wild dark hair and fierce eyes stormed in. Her glare fell on Averi, and she stopped short. “I must be in the wrong room,” the girl said, as she backed out and slammed the door shut.

Averi stood frozen, staring at the door. After a minute had passed, the door was flung open again, and the same girl charged through a second time.

“What are you doing in my room?” she demanded.

“Your room?” Averi asked archly. She drew herself up to her full height, noticing that she was easily taller than this strange girl. “I’ve been assigned to this room.” “That’s impossible. I’ve been assigned to this room. We can’t both be meant to live here.” “Actually, I think that’s exactly the idea,” Averi said mildly.

The girl took Averi’s words skeptically but observed that there were indeed two beds and two sets of furniture, and let loose a string of Nornese, of which Averi thankfully only caught the general gist.

“Even the worst accommodations at the monastery would never impose this…this forced cohabitation,” the girl said.

–  –  –

“Didn’t you read your acceptance papers?” Averi asked. “Only the upper-classmen have singles.” The girl looked at her murderously and threw her belongings down on her side of the room.

Averi turned back to her own trunk and plucked her acceptance papers out of a stack of books. “I’m Averi, by the way,” she said, searching for the name of her roommate. “And you must be Raven.” She winced. “A misprint. Call me Wisteria.”

–  –  –

Wisteria pointed at a spot in the middle of the room. “This is the line. You stay on your side. I stay on my side. The door is neutral territory.” Just then, there was a soft rapping on the door in question.

“Come in,” Averi called at the same time as Wisteria shouted, “Go away.” Averi gave an apologetic half-smile in answer to Wisteria’s annoyed frown as the door swung open.

“Princess Averis.” A strikingly beautiful, blonde girl in a richly adorned emerald gown strode in. Her full lips brushed Averi’s cheek as she embraced her.

“Lady Emberlynn,” Averi said. “It’s been too long.” “Please, call me Annalise.” She gestured to three girls waiting in the hall. “And perhaps you remember Lady Peony, Lady Celia, and Lady Calla-Lilly. Though I don’t believe I’ve met Lady…” she trailed off with a questioning glance at Wisteria.

“Wisteria,” Averi supplied.

–  –  –

“Ah,” Annalise said. “And where are you from, Lady Wisteria? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you at Court.” “I’ve never been,” Wisteria said icily. “I’m from the Ling Monastery.” Averi recalled that the Ling Monastery was an important political ally because of its connection with the Nornese… and she also recalled that the monastery’s people were widely known for their disdain of royal authority.

“How exotic,” Annalise said. She turned back to Averi. “We’re heading to lunch. Would you care to join us, Princess?” Averi hesitated, her eyes going to Wisteria who clearly wasn’t invited.

Wisteria pushed past the nobles. “I was just leaving,” she said, walking out the door.

“Then we won’t keep you,” Annalise said smugly. After Wisteria had left, Annalise lowered her voice to a whisper. “Don’t worry. She might be your roommate, but we’ll make sure you meet all the right people here.” Averi forced a smile. Already, it seemed that life at Eastridge was getting complicated.

“You mentioned lunch?” ~*~ At lunch, Rai Ravin found himself quite literally in a den of Thieves. He was sitting at a table of boys who were also in the Thief major. The other Thieves argued boisterously as they sized each other up, trading street stories and arguing over bragging rights.

“I’m from up at Port Lynn, Seaside District,” a boy called Quin said. “Won’t find a rougher place than that to get an education in Thieving.” The other boy, Nox, grimaced. “Miserable place. I passed through there once on my way to the Royal City. Now that’s where all the really good marks are.”

–  –  –

Rai had spent most of his life around the Royal City. Of course, he was probably one of the marks these boys were talking about.

“It doesn’t matter what you snatched in Port Lynn. It wouldn’t come close to one night’s haul in the Royal City,” Nox continued, nodding across the Dining Commons.

Rai followed his gaze and saw a cluster of noble young ladies whose attire would have been more in keeping with a ballroom.

“Look at the necklace on the blonde,” Nox said, letting out a low whistle. “I could lift that off without her even noticing.” “If you want to get expelled,” Quin pointed out. “That’s one of the Princesses of Easden.” Rai leaned forward to get a better look at the group. There, in the center, he saw her. The sunlight caught her pale hair and lit up her amber eyes. There was a hint of impatience in her smile, one that Rai knew he understood.

“Stop staring,” Quin said, elbowing Rai. “You’re making us look bad.” Rai grinned. “Couldn’t help myself.” Quin raised an eyebrow. “Were you staring at the girl or the jewels?” “Does it matter?” Nox asked with a laugh. “By the way, Metis, if you want your ring back, you’d best return my lucky copper.” The other boy swore and fished in his pocket for Nox’s copper. Rai watched the exchange between the two. As far as he could tell, the primary form of recreation for the Thief majors was pick-pocketing each other and bargaining for returns.

Rai had stayed out of the contest. Modesty wasn’t his strong suit, but even he had to suspect that going up against Thieves who had been working for years as pick-pockets was a bad idea.

–  –  –

Besides, he was much more interested in the Princess… as were many of the boys of Eastridge. He watched as one after another made his way up to introduce himself to her. He wanted to go up and talk to her, but he didn’t want to be just another admirer. He’d have to create some other opportunity… “You’ve dropped your guard, Ravin,” Quin observed as the bell tolled for the end of lunch, and the boys stood.

With a sinking feeling, Rai checked his pockets. They were empty. His room key was gone.

–  –  –

“Aren’t you going to try to get it back?” Nox asked innocently.

Rai had no idea who had stolen his key, but he was certain that he wasn’t yet good enough to snatch anything comparable to barter with. And he wasn’t about to beg for his own room key back. So instead, he shrugged nonchalantly.

“Keep it,” he said, turning to leave. “A good Thief doesn’t need keys.” ~*~ Wisteria knew it was pointless to hope that she’d never have to see her roommate again, but it hardly seemed fair that she’d run into the girl at the Coliseum where all the first-year Mages had gathered to test out of remedial runes.

It wasn’t bad enough that Wisteria had to have a roommate; she also had to be rooming with one of the Princesses of Easden. She wasn’t sensitive enough to be bothered by Annalise’s slights, but that still didn’t make it pleasant.

–  –  –

All around the Coliseum, students were lining up in rows to take turns demonstrating their rune-work. Wisteria made it a point to go to the farthest side of the arena away from Averi, getting in line behind a group of four rowdy boys.

“Bet I can Blast it back five feet.” The tallest boy in the group boasted. He had a prominent nose with a faint scar at the tip, dark skin, and deep black hair that he ran his fingers through. He eyed the center of the ring where a tall, formidable boulder had been placed as a target for the Mages.

“Sure, Vane,” another boy said. This one was half a head shorter but was more muscular with chestnut brown hair and a wide smirk on his olive-toned features. “I bet you end up casting a Light Rune.” “Better watch that mouth of yours, Sariil. You’re up first,” Vane snorted, pushing his friend forward. “Let’s see what you’ve got.” Wisteria watched as the boy called Sariil stepped forward.

“Sariil Darek,” he told the professor, who checked his name off a list.

“Sariil, please choose one of the following runes to demonstrate your ability: Light, Hold, or Blast.” “I’ll cast the Blast Rune,” Sariil said.

The professor nodded and stepped out of the way. “When you’re ready,” he said, indicating the boulder.

Sariil took a deep breath and held up his right hand. With five quick strokes, he traced out the Blast Rune in the air, calling the magic in front of him into being. Then he cast it, hurling the glowing rune at the boulder. The rune hit the rock, punching a dent in its side. Sariil stepped back, looking satisfied.

–  –  –

The professor made a note and gestured for him to move on. Sariil stepped aside, but hung back to watch the others.

“Vane Aloric,” the dark-haired one said. “I’ll also do the Blast Rune.” Vane’s barely scratched the boulder, but the boy who went after him left a sizeable crack running through the rock. He was still gloating as Wisteria stepped forward.

“Wisteria Ling,” she said without thinking. But as the professor furrowed his brow over the papers, she corrected herself. “I mean, Raven. I’ll try the Blast Rune.” Calling up the magic was second nature to her after training at the Ling Monastery. She wrote out the Blast Rune easily, pouring power into every line of it. It was almost a relief to have something to do with all her pent-up energy. She recalled her fight with her mother, the hours of traveling, and the pretentious nobles. Then she cast it.

The Blast Rune spun towards the boulder, and when it hit, the force slammed the boulder back, toppling it over.

Everyone in the Coliseum stopped to stare at her. The boys ahead of her fell silent.

“Sorry,” Wisteria muttered to the professor.

As she turned to leave, Sariil put a hand on her arm, stopping her. “Who are you?

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