Wisteria Ling and princess Averi Rysten, art by KM Ricker

School for Adventurers: The Coin Test

The coin was thick, copper, and inscribed with a number on one side and a crown 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 the coin over in her fingers, then placed it in the pocket of her gown. Resting her hand on one of the bookcases, she looked around at the other candidates to see if they had figured anything out.

Most of them seemed to think the professors were done evaluating them, that the coin was some last formality or else something that would be collected later as a sign they had passed. All around the room, the applicants mingled, some discussing the coins, others comparing the particulars of their interviews. Averi leaned against a bookcase to get closer to one group to hear what they were saying.

“I almost fainted, honestly. I missed one line on the rune and nearly set fire to the table the professors were sitting behind!”

“Sounds as bad as the Cleric interview. We had to demonstrate every variant of the Probe Rune and ten different minor healing spells.”

“At least no one punched you in the face. For the Warrior interview, we were attacked! I nearly broke my leg. I just hope I’ve still got a shot at getting in.”

Eastridge was renowned for offering the finest education for all four trades that were most popular for adventurers and defenders of the realm. Warriors learned hand-to-hand combat and weapons work. Mages were trained in rune theory and combat casting. Clerics were taught to heal the injured. Thieves, on the other hand, learned how to sneak and steal. But Averi hadn’t heard anyone complaining about the Thief exams…

Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a blur of shadows. But when she looked again, it was gone.

The coin, she realized.

Then she froze. One of the shadows was right behind her. She spun around and grabbed blindly, her hand catching someone by the wrist.

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 spell,” Averi said. “I’ve already seen you, and you’re not getting my coin.”

In an instant, the magic flickered and disappeared, and she was looking up at a handsome, auburn-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. His blue-grey eyes danced with amusement.

“Well, this is awkward,” he said.

“Why were you trying to steal my coin?” she asked, releasing him.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “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.”

“You mean you steal our coins—and our chance of getting in—and that’s your final test?” She shoved her hand in her pocket and wrapped her fingers around her coin to make sure no other Thieves in the room would take it.

“It’s your final test too,” he pointed out.

“That’s terrible,” Averi said.

“Only the best get into Eastridge, and a talent for theft isn’t something you can prove with a written exam.”

Averi had to admit that what he said rang true. If Mages and Clerics had to cast spells during their interviews, and Warriors had to fight, it only made sense that Thieves would steal.

“Besides,” he continued, “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 apologetic 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?” she asked, gesturing to her simple garb.

“Platinum blonde hair and amber eyes aren’t common, but it’s your posture that would give you away any day,” he said with a chuckle. “Though to be honest, I recognized you from the last time I was in the Royal City. There’d be something wrong with me if I could forget someone like you, Princess Averis.”

“Please, just call me Averi,” she said, though she was blushing. She looked him over and tried to place him. From his clothes, he definitely wasn’t noble.

“Averi,” he said with a smile.

Suddenly, 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 hoped it was enough. She looked around the room, realizing that of the candidates remaining, many might 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.

This is an excerpt from School for Adventurers, a fantasy-novel-in-progress.