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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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Rai looked around. Everyone else also seemed to be stuck in the onslaught. Then Aisling’s voice cut through the chaos.

“Second-years, that’s enough,” she called, and immediately the attack stopped.

“So the second-years are using us for target practice?” Rai observed.

“How enjoyable,” Wisteria said, sitting down hard on the ground, seemingly unbothered by the dirt.

“Not bad for your first day, but we’ll have to work on actually getting the wounded out of the range of fire,” Aisling told them with a smile. “Now that’s all for this class. Make sure you rest tonight. You’ve had a long day, and you’ll be at it again tomorrow.” ~*~ The unfortunate thing about roommates was that at the end of the day, there was no avoiding them. Averi was sitting on her bed when Wisteria returned after Cleric class. Wisteria supposed she might as well get this over with.

“It was unintentional,” Wisteria said without any greeting.

Averi looked up, startled. “What?” “Combat Casting today. It was unintentional and entirely my partner’s fault. If Vane was half as good as he says he is, he would’ve returned the Water Orb without a problem. I wasn’t aiming for you.” “Oh. Right,” Averi agreed. Wisteria hadn’t actually apologized, but Averi seemed to appreciate that she was at least trying to. “Next time, I’ll try not to stand behind your target,” Averi said with a smile.

–  –  –

Wisteria was relieved. This had gone surprisingly well. If her roommate could forgive her for dousing her on the first day of classes and even joke about it, maybe Wisteria could get used to having her around.

~*~

Rai hated to skip dinner, but a glance at his class schedule, and he remembered:

Rudimentary Stealth, his first Thief class started at the seventh hour. He was grateful they had given him that much to start with, although admittedly the writing had appeared in code that he had to decipher.

Unfortunately, there was no mention of a classroom. Rai looked around and nearly jumped when he saw a shadow flitting in the corner. A shadow on a shadow—Rai could only guess it was a fellow Thief student sneaking to class.

Slinging his book bag over his shoulder, Rai rushed after the blur. He followed it around the rows of classrooms and into the Sparring Grounds, where he finally saw a semi-circle of black-clad figures standing in the dark.

“Welcome to your first class, Rai Ravin,” a voice said from the center of the semi-circle.

Rai approached, and in the dim moonlight, he saw the slender form of Nianzu. He felt a brief surge of pride at actually finding the class.

“Check your pockets,” Nianzu said casually, as though reading the exuberance on his face.

With dismay, Rai rifled through his pockets, realizing that his coins, papers, and even books from his book bag were missing.

“Do you always come to class barefoot?” Nianzu asked softly.

Rai looked down and realized that his shoes were missing.

–  –  –

“Fine work,” Nianzu said to the upperclassmen Thieves who emerged from the shadows, dumping Rai’s possessions onto the ground in front of him. Most wore intimidating masks, but one blonde girl wore her face bare. She winked at Rai as she returned his shoes.

Rai did his best to appear unruffled and stuffed his coins and notes hurriedly into pockets.

He heard one of the upperclassmen click his tongue at the ease of this target, and he turned red.

At least he didn’t have to be too embarrassed, though—looking around, Rai observed that he was not the only first-year who had been targeted. As the upperclassmen stepped back, they revealed a whole group of self-conscious, first-years who were also replacing various articles of clothing.

One poor boy had to suffer several minutes topless since his shirt had been taken as well.

“Now that all the novices have been rounded up, we shall begin,” Nianzu said, interrupting any murmurs that were circulating. The class fell silent. “This is Rudimentary Stealth, and I am Professor Nianzu. I am pleased to see that most of our first-years have made it to class today.” “Yeah, barely,” Rai heard one of the other first-years, a boy with a shock of white hair, retort loudly.

If Nianzu heard the boy, she ignored him. “This class covers stealth basics and will help you improve your ability to be seen only when you want to be, an important skill for any Thief.

Unlike your other Thief classes, Rudimentary Stealth will always meet after dinner at this time, and you need bring nothing, lest it be stolen from under your nose.” “Professor, will we always meet here?” It was the same boy who had spoken impudently before. His question prompted a laugh among the upperclassmen, which Nianzu snuffed with a pointed glare.

–  –  –

“Since you are all first-years, I will spell this out clearly: the classroom will change. It is up to you to find out where it will be,” Nianzu said. “Thieves rarely find it advantageous to convene in the same place at the same time. You will come to learn this when you play The Game.” “The Game, Professor?” Again, the boy with white hair.

Nianzu glowered at him. “That’s enough out of you, Lyre Cross, or I will ensure you have no shoes for a week.” The boy winced, and Nianzu continued, “For the first half of the year, you will have mentors to guide you through your work.”

–  –  –





“Upperclassmen will be assigned to you to monitor your progress and report back to us.” Rai felt his stomach drop. That didn’t sound helpful at all. What part of that was ‘guiding’?

“Grades are determined by your ability to complete assignments within the given parameters. Missions and assignments will be given as part of your marks. In fact, your first assignment begins now; by the next class, you are each to discern the identity of the Thief or Thieves who will mentor you,” Nianzu stopped to look over each of the first-years’ gaping faces.

“I wish you the best of luck.” With those words, Nianzu gestured, and in a flash of smoke, professor and upperclassmen alike disappeared.

Rai groaned. He had just considered himself lucky to find the classroom and now, this?

There were going to be few triumphs in the Thief major it seemed.

~*~

–  –  –

It was a relief to get back to Drop Tower, where at least Rai knew his shoes would stay firmly on his feet. As he walked into the dormitory’s common Library, he found most of the first year residents scattered, half-studying and half-chattering about the first day. The Thieves were in one corner, but since Rai still hadn’t gotten his key back, he didn’t feel much like associating with them. There were a few girls that he had talked to scattered about the room, and Averi was seated at the center with a group of nobles, but tonight he was here to make some progress with the roommate. It didn’t much surprise him that Wisteria was off in a corner by herself, or that she failed to look up when he sat down next to her and cleared his throat.

“Studying already?” he asked, leaning over her book. He glanced at the page she was open to—there was an elaborate mark at the center of the page with a description next to it. “The Reflection Rune, capable of…” She shifted so that he couldn’t read over her shoulder. “Don’t you have your own books?” “I’ll study later,” Rai said. He turned to survey the room and observed, “Seems like it’s really crowded in here. I never would have expected a Library to be so popular.” “It’s not the Library that’s popular,” Wisteria said, flipping another page in her book.

Rai chuckled. It was true. Everyone seemed to have an eye on the center of the room.

With good reason.

All of the higher nobles—the ladies who wore gowns and studied mage-work—were clustered at a table, drawing the attention of everyone around them. Of course, Averi was at the center, and next to her, was the most stunning girl Rai had ever seen. From the commanding way she looked over the Library as though it were her own personal domain, Rai could only guess she was well aware of the staggering impact she had on the men in the room.

–  –  –

“That must be Lady Annalise Emberlynn,” he said.

“You know her?” Wisteria said, in a tone that made it an accusation.

“Half the second-year boys are in love with her,” he said. “And, nearly all of the firstyears, as well.” Looking at her now, he could understand why. With delicate yet striking features and a fashionable figure, Annalise commanded her circle with a self-assuredness that was as attractive as it was intimidating. Her golden blonde hair trailed elegantly down her back, held in place by two ornate sapphire clips that matched her eyes. Rai watched her delicately smooth the folds of her cream-colored gown, which fell just within the bounds of tasteful modesty. When she spoke, the other girls fell silent.

“My roommate’s over there,” Wisteria said conversationally. “She could probably introduce you, if you’re interested.” “I’m not quite ready to join the ranks of nobles chasing after those girls.” Wisteria looked moderately amused. They watched a group of well-dressed noble men edging towards the circle of girls.

“That’s the third group tonight,” Wisteria said, making a tally mark at the corner of her book and completely ignoring Rai’s comment.

Two of the noblemen preoccupied themselves with vying for Annalise’s attention, but the other four turned to Averi.

“Watch how she handles this,” Wisteria said, as if they were at some sort of tournament.

“She gives them all the exact same look for the exact same amount of time, and says, from what I can tell, nearly the exact same thing, yet somehow they each walk away looking extraordinarily pleased.”

–  –  –

Wisteria proved correct: Averi addressed each of the boys in a calculated manner that measured out her sentences, her smile, and even how long she held their gaze before politely nodding and moving onto the next boy. She listened to what they said and replied, but only with polite indifference.

“It looks almost painful,” Rai said. “But, I suppose that’s diplomacy for you.” “I suppose,” Wisteria echoed, but her words were drowned out by the tolling of the ninth hour and the beginning of curfew. With a groan, the students began clearing out of the Library, heading towards their rooms.

“Do you need an escort back to your room?” Rai asked, exaggerating the offer by extending his hand and bowing at the waist.

“Not if you’re going to act like that,” Wisteria told him bluntly. By the time he looked up, she was already walking away. But when she turned to glance back at him, he consoled himself with the fact that she was smiling.

–  –  –

Fell Farmington couldn’t help marveling at the ease with which his life fell into the painful and hazardous routine of the Warrior major. Half of his classes—Grabs and Grappling and Weapons Work—taught him how to fight and how to defend himself, assigning merciless amounts of book reading in addition to the lectures. On top of that, there were the mandatory practice hours, which Fell insisted on supplementing with his own extra hours in the stable, where no one would see him blundering through the mechanics of the moves. The other half of Fell’s classes—Sparring I and Unarmed Combat Basics—was little more than a chance for the upperclassmen to pummel him senseless and send him to the Infirmary.

But the bright side of that was getting to see Wisteria and Rai, whom Fell had begun to regard as his only two friends at Eastridge. Whenever he came to them with various wounds, they always, always patched him up. The novelty of that, perhaps more than anything else, kept Fell going back to class each day while classmate after classmate dropped out or transferred to another major. Before coming to Eastridge, Fell had never seen a healer before, much less a Cleric with real magic. On the farm, that had always been the worst part of getting hurt, knowing that for the next few weeks, the painful bruises or broken fingers would throb during every moment of his work baling hay and looking after the animals.

Now, however, he faced his injuries with anticipation for the healing to come. What did it matter how much it hurt for a few minutes when it would be gone in the blink of an eye as soon as Wisteria and Rai were there to take care of him?

With the two of them joking with him and even arguing over how best to help him, Fell didn’t give a second thought to the fact that everyone perpetually expected him to be the next to

–  –  –

wash-out of the Warrior major. All Fell knew was that this was his dream, and he wasn’t going to give it up, not over a few bruises and busted bones.

So day after day, Fell surprised everyone but himself by showing up and facing down Torrent’s bullies in Sparring I or Unarmed Combat Basics with a look on his face as though he thoroughly expected to, at any moment, land a punch or dodge a kick, and find himself victorious.

“Don’t know how you do it,” Javen said grimly one day, when they were about to depart for another pain-filled session of Sparring I. “I don’t know if I can go today.” He stood up then sat down on his bed again, shaking slightly.

“What’s wrong?” Fell asked. “Are you sick? Or hurt?” “No, you idiot, I just don’t… don’t want to get beaten up again today. I can’t… I can’t just walk into it the way you do. I don’t want to get hurt anymore!” Fell awkwardly patted Javen on the back. This was the most they had spoken in the past two weeks beyond reminding each other when it was time for class or asking about homework assignments. Javen always seemed so tough, but Fell supposed that yesterday had probably been Javen’s first experience with a broken bone, and having Torrent break five of Javen’s ribs was probably the worst way to experience it.



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