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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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Where’d you train to get that good?” She looked down at his hand on her, and he quickly pulled it away. “I’m Wisteria. From the Ling Monastery.” “Well, Wisteria Ling of the Ling Monastery,” Sariil said, not noticing her wince at the mention of her last name. “You seem like a worthy opponent. I look forward to facing you in class tomorrow.” “Sure,” Wisteria said, stepping around him. “See you tomorrow.”

–  –  –

~*~ While the Mages were finishing their rune tests, Fell Farmington was settling into his room in the west wing of Drop Tower. Though Fell had unpacked hours before, his belongings only took up one small corner of the wardrobe. He had no books or papers to put on the desk.

And so, having run out of things to do, he sat on his bed, marveling at the room. He had never seen such luxury. His own bed, his own desk, his own chair, his own wardrobe… and the room was easily three times the size of the hayloft that he used to sleep in… and it wasn’t cluttered with stray cats. Fell did have a roommate, Javen, but he had seen little of him other than the trunk at the foot of one of the beds. Where could he be all this time?

Thinking of his roommate made Fell restless to explore the dormitory. Taking one last look at his room as though to reassure himself that it was really real and would stay put while he was gone, Fell cautiously opened his door and glanced around the hallway. He had just enough time to duck down as a hide-bound ball flew by his head.

“Look out!” someone called, laughing, as Fell didn’t duck far enough to avoid the second ball. It crashed into his forehead, and he fell down, head ringing and vision blurring. But the sensation was too familiar to be alarming; Fell blinked away the dizzy-feeling and shook his head. In a matter of seconds, his head cleared, and Fell jumped back up.

He looked around and saw that it was Javen who had thrown the balls. He and Cai, another first-year that Fell had met earlier, were throwing the balls down the length of the hall with a few other boys that Fell hadn’t met.

Fell picked up the ball that had hit him and tossed it back to Javen, smiling goodnaturedly to show that he wasn’t hurt. Javen nodded his thanks, but since he didn’t extend an invitation for Fell to join in, Fell thought it best to get out of their way. Double-checking that he

–  –  –

had his key firmly in his hand, Fell shut the door and locked it behind him. It was a short walk to the end of the hall, and once Fell was out of the way of the game, he relaxed and started looking around him.

The dormitory was the largest building Fell had ever been in. He knew that each wing of Drop Tower was devoted to a different major and that there were common areas at the end of each hall. That’s where he decided to go.

First, Fell meandered through the small library on the third floor that featured books relevant to the Warrior Major. Fell ran his hands across some of the leather-bound spines: How to Fall and How to Fight: The Basics of Combat; An Illustrated Guide to Grabs, Holds, and Throws; and Theories and Practices of Swords-Work. The titles caught his interest, so he picked up all three and carried them with him.

Wondering what was on the second floor, Fell ventured down there and found an extensive training room. From punching bags to sparring equipment, everything was wellmaintained and the best that money could buy. Fell couldn’t take his eyes away from it. Back home, he had spent hours setting up what he could— stitching up a burlap sack stuffed with hay for a punching bag, finding and shaping a heavy stick that was relatively straight for a practice sword. This set up made his efforts seem even more pathetic, and all the worse for the fact that he had considered his training room one of his greatest accomplishments.

He felt his face burning with embarrassment, but at least the room was nearly deserted and with luck, he could retreat before anyone noticed he had wandered in…

–  –  –

As he turned to walk out, he nearly collided with five older boys blocking the doorway.

He could tell immediately that they were older—they were heavily-muscled and moved with an

–  –  –

easiness that all the upperclassmen seemed to intrinsically possess. And perhaps most obviously, they all openly wore weaponry of various sorts, which was strictly forbidden for first-years.

“What’s this hayseed doing here?” one of them shouted.

Another sighed. “The entire Serathian army could sneak up on him, and he wouldn’t notice unless he tripped over a sword. How could a kid like this get into the most prestigious academy for combat training in the realm?” “Obviously not wealth, unless he’s some sort of princeling in disguise.” “Those are always so obvious, and they always have twice the confidence of this bumpkin.” Fell looked down. They were still blocking the way out of the room. It was clear they weren’t going to let him leave until they were through with him.

“We can rule out connections.” “Unless he did some passing noble a good turn.” “It would take more than the usual noble; he’d have to have blasted near saved the Emperor.” “Well, it doesn’t matter now that we’re here to take care of it,” the closest one concluded.

“He’ll be running back to his farm before breakfast.” With that, he shoved Fell back, hard enough to make him fall flat on the ground, books slipping out of his hands and crashing to a heap on the floor.

“He brought books to the training room, Torrent,” the boy who had pushed him said.

Torrent shook his head. “Maybe he’s lost. Maybe he thinks this is the Library.” “If you want to study, go be a Cleric,” the first one said, grabbing Fell’s shirt and pulling him to his feet.

–  –  –

Fell’s long years with Lanks had taught him better than to try to talk back to them.

Bullying was nothing new, although the difference between these warriors-in-training and the kids back home was enough to make Fell’s heart leap into his throat. Torrent and his crew were trained, skilled warriors. Lanks had been nothing more than an older kid out to get him. And then again, while Lanks and the others might thrash him, they never got more creative than their fists.

These upperclassmen all had real weapons.

But much to Fell’s relief, no one made a move to touch their swords. Instead, Torrent casually said, “Rakam, why don’t you teach him what he can’t learn in books?” and the boy who had shoved him pulled him into one of the sparring rings.

“Fight! Fight!” the others began chanting.

“You want to be a Warrior?” Rakam said. “You want to be tough?” He roughly pushed Fell into the center of the ring. “You know Warriors fight, right?” Fell looked around, noticing that a small crowd had gathered. Then he looked back at Rakam.

“So if you want to be a Warrior,” Rakam spread his arms open, grinning at Fell. “Then hit me.” Fell gulped. Every part of him clamored that this was a trap. But it was a trap that he was already too far tangled in to get out unscathed. And if he was going to get one hit, he might as well make it count. Fell leaned back, pulling his right fist back for a more powerful swing. Then he swung, throwing his whole body into the punch. If it would only land, Fell was sure Rakam would at least be dazed.

–  –  –

But only inches before impact, Rakam grabbed Fell’s fist with his right hand, redirecting the punch to the empty air next to him. With his left hand, Rakam slammed Fell with a quick, powerful hit to his head.

Momentum still carrying him forward, Fell tumbled face-forward onto the mat. He tried to roll to his feet, but he was too slow. While he was still half on the ground, Rakam caught him with a sharp kick to his stomach. Scrambling faster this time, Fell was nearly on his feet before Rakam rammed his elbow into Fell’s nose with a painful crunch that everyone watching recognized as the sound of a broken nose.

Blood poured out as Fell crouched, hunched over in pain. “You better go see the Clerics,” Torrent called out, provoking laughter from the group.

Holding his sleeve to his nose, Fell staggered over to where his books had fallen. Careful to not get any blood on the pages, Fell picked up the books with one hand. Holding the books to his chest, and without looking back at the Warriors laughing at him, Fell ran out of the training room.

~*~ It was getting dark, and Rai was getting worried.

He was no closer to getting his key back, but right now he would’ve settled for a way into Drop Tower. The outer doors were always locked, and with curfew only minutes away, all the first years were already inside.

Well, he had been intending to visit the Princess. No time like the present.

It didn’t take long to find her room. He knew she must be in the Mage wing, and after only a light amount of trial and error, he found himself standing beneath her window.

–  –  –

Rai eyed the tree outside her window warily. Looking up, he saw Averi move away from the window ledge, and the lights in the room were suddenly extinguished. That decided him. He put a hand on the lowest branch and swung himself up.

After only a few minutes of climbing, he reached the top. There were three windows outside the room, two small windows framing a third bigger window. But what interested Rai most was the foot-wide ledge beneath each of them. It was too dark to see which window was Averi’s, so he took a leap of faith. He overshot the distance, his elbow thudding against the windowpane as he struggled to keep his balance.

He glanced through the window and saw a sleeping form, her head obscured from his view by her pillow. Kneeling, he rapped on the window.

The girl shifted and looked up at him. As soon as she turned to face him, he could tell that he had the wrong roommate. Her dark hair fell wildly around her, and her eyes flashed with annoyance. Instantly, she scrambled for a Light Sphere. He gave her his most winning smile, but she merely raised an eyebrow. He pointed down at the latch.

She opened the latch, pushing out the window a few inches and nearly knocking him off the ledge.

“I knew there was something I didn’t like about these ledges,” she said dryly. “Most girls just have flowers.” He knelt closer to her. “Don’t worry. You can trust me,” he told her.

“Oh, well, as long as you say so, I feel much better that some stranger is attempting to sneak into my room,” she said.

“If I was trying to sneak into your room, I probably wouldn’t have knocked,” he pointed out. “Now, can I ask you for a favor?”

–  –  –

“You don’t seem like someone with much of an alternative.” He chuckled. “You’re right. I’m at your mercy.” “What do you want?” she asked. Rai wondered if she had been finally baited into genuine curiosity or if she was simply trying to get rid of him.

“I’m looking for someone—” “Wisteria, are you letting a Thief into our room?” Averi’s voice interrupted him, and he turned to the bed on the right. Averi slid out of bed as Rai jumped to the middle ledge to meet her.

The moonlight coming in from the big window was behind him, so while she only saw his silhouette, he could see her softly-lit features as she smiled warily at him.

“Princess, you’re looking lovely this evening,” he said to her.

“I’m sure you didn’t break curfew and sneak into our room just to tell me that,” Averi said with a reluctant smile. “If they caught you in here…” “I’d pretty much become a hero,” he finished for her.

“What did you come here for that couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” Averi looked up into his eyes.

“To see for myself that you made it in. I’d feel terrible if I had hurt your chances.” “Despite your best efforts, I was accepted.” “If you’re going to hold it against me,” he said, “the least you can do is give me a chance to make it up to you.” Wisteria cleared her throat loudly.

–  –  –

“But maybe this isn’t the best time for that conversation,” he conceded. “Ladies, I’m terribly sorry to have kept you up. Given the late hour, it’s perfectly understandable that you forgot to invite me in.” “How rude of me,” Averi allowed, though Wisteria scoffed. “Would you care to exit through the door instead of your window?” Averi gestured at the door.

“Thank you.” He jumped through the window into their room. “And now, good—” His words were suddenly cut off by a sharp howling of wind that came from the other side of the girls’ door. Tendrils of ice curled around the door handle and crept under the frame.

Then the door burst open, slamming back to reveal an irate upperclassman with pale, severe features, dark hair, and the bearing of a Warrior.

“Wraith Ravinswood,” Evelyn Icecaster said, her blue eyes fixed on the boy. “I should have known you’d be the first to break curfew this year.” “Lady Evelyn Icecaster, a pleasure as always,” he said with a bow. “It’s been too long.

You really should come to Court more often.” “You aren’t charming you’re way out of this one, Rai,” Evelyn said, advancing on him.

“You and these girls broke the rules. On the first night, no less.” “I take full responsibility,” Rai said, holding up his hands. “It was entirely my fault.

These girls had only the best intentions of going to sleep early tonight.” “Sure.” She grabbed hold of his shirt collar, leading him out of the room with a warning glare at Averi. She slammed the door shut behind her. “For future reference, Ravin, I’m overseeing this floor. If you absolutely must romance someone, try one of the Clerics.” She turned him loose in the hallway and stormed back to her room.

–  –  –

Well, that certainly was one way to make an exit, Rai thought. At the very least, he was sure the Princess wouldn’t be forgetting him anytime soon.

~*~ Fell hid in the library until his nose stopped bleeding and the clock tolled for curfew.

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