Tristan is the first female student to ever be trained at the University. The wizards just don’t know it yet.
Four years before the events of The Sword, Tristan enrolls at the University under a disguise. Her goal is to seek out weaknesses within the system and find a way to destroy the Sword. She soon discovers the wizards she’s hated her whole life are not all the evil beings she expected.
Her new roommate, Cole is particularly difficult to understand. Constantly hiding his emotions, she never knows if he is her biggest threat or greatest ally.
When a recent graduate returns to the school with a plan to change the way wizards steal their magic, she must make a choice. Either trust the wizards who have become her friends, or destroy them all.
Every eye in the dining hall is on me. I lift my tray of food a little higher and meet each gaze in turn, daring my watchers to keep staring. Most don’t. I memorize each of their faces anyway, just in case they decide to cause trouble later, as I’m sure they will.
I was told to expect this. I’m new here. I’ve yet to earn their respect. Worse, I’m old. Fourteen and just arriving at the University. It’s unheard of. Everyone else has been here since they were eight. Some came even younger. Barely out of the womb and thrown to the pack of wolves known as wizards.
Looking around, I can’t believe anyone could have survived here for so long. The place is clean enough. Not sure what poor soul they have enslaved to keep it so spotless, but they’ve done a good job. The black marble floors shine, reflecting the light of the magical lamps hovering above.
Two long wooden tables take up the majority of this room, but in every other room I’ve seen so far, the space has always been mostly empty. Maybe a few dark stained desks and simple wooden chairs set up in a corner, but nothing more. No decorations. No sign people actually live here.
I suppose that’s what bothers me so much. It’s too clean to be a home for boys. It feels fake.
Of course it does. This is a wizard’s base after all.
And now I’m trapped here as though I’m one of them. The boys staring at me have no idea where I’ve come from. Though I’ve overheard a few of their theories already.
Raised by chimeras in the woods is my favourite. I think I’ll encourage that one while I’m here. Might make a few of them think twice before trying to pick a fight with me.
If any of them knew the truth, well, I wouldn’t be walking across this room right now.
Females cannot be students at the University.
Oh good. A spot. And the boy sitting next to it isn’t staring at me with as much confusion, disgust or outright hatred as the others. He glances at me once out of curiosity and then returns to his meal.
I place my tray on the table next to him and sit down.
“Spot’s taken,” he says once I’ve settled.
I freeze, my hand hovering over my spoon. He had to wait until I sat. Couldn’t have said anything when I put my tray down.
Well, too bad. I’m not moving.
“I don’t see anyone.” I make my voice as deep as I can manage. I want to come off as strong as possible. Not some squeaky, startled child.
“Still getting his food.” He munches on a piece of bread thoughtfully. “Probably won’t be too happy about some new kid stealing his seat.”
I stare at the boy to figure out if this is test. Is there really someone else? How would a proper wizard act in this situation?
He gives no hints. His expression is neutral and his bright green eyes tell me nothing more than he’s concentrating very hard on his bowl. Strange. Usually I can read people better than this.
It’s easy to understand what people are thinking if you know what to watch for. Every muscle twitch, every blink, every shift in their expression is like a word on a page to me. It’s not mind reading, just being observant. However, the trick is to have something to observe. This boy is giving me nothing.
“Where should I sit, then?” I ask. “Maybe I should push one of the smaller kids out of their seat? Is that how things work around here?”
He looks me directly in the eye before giving me a once over. I can’t even tell what he thinks of me. Apparently I’m not as good at understanding people as I thought. A slight shrug and then he’s back to slowly chewing as though he’s mulling over every squeeze of his jaw.
“Could do,” he says when he finally swallows. “Though, from the look of you, a toddler would probably win in a fight. Or you could always move over there.”
He nods to an open seat directly across from him at the table. Admittedly, I hadn’t noticed it before. Even if I had, it would be a pain to walk all the way around to reach the other side.
“And what if I don’t move?” I try to make myself look as tough as possible. Not exactly easy since I’m thin, lanky and have no visible muscles to speak of. But I’m told I can do a decent intimidating glare. “What will you do then?”
“Me?” His eyebrows rise as he looks at me. “Nothing. Him on the other hand…”
I follow his gaze to the biggest boy I’ve ever seen. The width of one of his arms is roughly the size of my waist. His paws, er, hands, are the perfect size for crushing my skull. No youth should be capable of growing as much hair as he has both on his head and face. He looks more like a bear than a boy.
I shove my tray directly across to the opposite seat and slip straight down under the table and back up on the other side. I do my best to look as unshaken as possible as I straighten into my new place.
“Better?” I ask.
The normal-sized boy’s blank expression slips for a moment, causing his eyes to brighten and come alive.
“Much,” he says.
As the bear drops into my old seat with a thud loud enough to echo throughout the entire room, I put my hand out as an offering. Neither shakes it.
“I’m Tristan,” I say anyway. “Nice to meet you.”
The bear gives his friend an amused look to which he gets no response. A shift of his shoulders tells me he’s not bothered by the smaller boy’s lack of greeting. The speed he shoves his spoon into his mouth is a sign he’s too hungry to waste time speaking to me.
It’s so simple to read him, so why can’t I understand the green eyed one?
“Cole.” Still no expression, but at least now I know his name. “And this is Dean.”
“New kid, huh,” Dean says. “What do you think of the University so far?”
I hesitate for a moment. I think many things. Most I have no plans of sharing with these people any time soon. “It’s big.”
Dean laughs and slaps the table with his hand. For a minute I wonder if the table will crack from the pressure, but I guess they’re made pretty sturdy. Possibly the wizards used some magic to protect them from this kind of abuse.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “You’ll get used to it. Me? I find it cramped here.” He leans in as though telling me a secret so I cautiously lean forward as well. “Find every chance we can to get out of here, don’t we, Cole?”
“Yes.” Cole sets his spoon down and leans back. “I’m definitely done with this conversation.”
He stands up, grabs his tray and walks to the back of the room. I notice a number of the boys nod to him as he passes, though he doesn’t speak to any of them.
“Don’t worry about him.” It’s only after he speaks I realize while I’ve been watching Cole, Dean’s been watching me. “He’s like that with everyone.”
Observe. Do not engage any more than necessary.
But damn it, I’m curious.
“You two are friends?”
Physically they seem like complete opposites. Cole is all limbs while Dean is pure muscle. Also, the expressions. I can read everything this boy’s thinking. He’s trying to get a feel for me. He’ll probably say something insulting to force a reaction from me. When I don’t give one, he’ll leave it for now. He’s too hungry to focus too much attention on me. The fresh stain on his tunic tells me it’s only because this is his second supper he’s willing to spend any time on me at all.
And yet I got nothing from Cole.
“Course we are,” he says. “Guess you really are as stupid as you look.”
Sad. I was hoping for something a little more original.
He stares me down as I avoid eye contact and take a long sip of my stew. Not bad. They weren’t lying when they told me even the students eat well. Lots of meat and vegetables in this. I haven’t had much more than broth and overly hard bread for days now.
Finally he gives up and takes his own sip. It’s all it takes. With his attention on his food, I’m free to let my focus drift back to the door Cole walked out of.
Observe. Do not engage.
Curiosity over an individual is pointless. There’s no pressing need to know anything more about him, at least not for now. He was obviously fooled by my disguise, as everyone else has been. The rest, not being able to read him to a minute level as I can the others is just my ego being bruised.
But just to be safe, I should keep as far from him as possible from now on. Not knowing what he’s thinking makes dealing with him dangerous and I need to be careful.
My life is on the line.