Lady Alverette scowled, stretching out to rest her head against the rim of the tub. Her eyes flickered from brown to a hint of violet as she stared up at the tiled ceiling.
Ravina was far too much like her father. All fairness and no fire. She wouldn’t challenge the magical academy—after all, a scholarship student had no voice.
Still. She bristled. Fail her daughter out of spite? Ha! She knew Maurous. He would, if he could and that meant that he would have to pay for that.
Ravina slipped into her designated seat on the bench. Her stomach twisted at the sight of the near-empty stage before her. She was sitting up front, this time, with the other students who also hadn’t passed the practical test.
Her written test scores had to be good—at least, she had studied—but the majority of her grade depended on the practical and the absence of High Magician Maurous was not very promising.
In fact, Court Magician Ceros seemed to be a bit frazzled as he sent the Senior apprentices bustling around to set up the shields before any official exams could take place.
Those who passed today, would accompany the graduates from the previous day, to an evening ceremony with a speech from King Horace and a splendid dinner of some sort.
Ravina tried not to slump in her seat. She had hoped for a glimpse of the palace—at least one of the dining halls. Her mother rarely spoke of her former days as a beautiful lady of the court. Most of the images in her mind, came from the borrowed textbooks in the library or pure imagination.
Marrying a human had caused all sorts of uproar and while Ravina loved her father dearly, sometimes, she did wish he had magic. If only so he would understand how awful it was to be sitting there on the bench—with the entire day looming overhead.
She would be forced to watch her fellow students prancing up on stage and showing off their semi-useful, but delightfully elaborate spells of pomp and circumstance. They would dance off into rosy-colored lives with access to the fame and fortune that was afforded to properly licensed magic users.
Not that she couldn’t be happy for them but—the annoying whispers of her fellow seat mates drew her annoyance. Ravina smoothed her shabby robe one more time, resisting the urge to be obnoxious about it.
These three gossips were always whispering the sorts of things she didn’t care to hear. So what difference did it make if Lord Harrington’s daughter was sweet on the young Knight Jameson?
Wasn’t half the court that way?
Jameson, a young knight, had proven himself worthy of wielding a cursed sword, and consequently won both the court’s favor and the Queen’s personal endorsement.
Personally, Ravina didn’t see what good the Queen’s endorsement did, for it was only at the King’s say-so that such distinctions were even recognized.
She would rather a King’s golden pardon—a beautiful gift that would excuse absolutely anything she ever did in her life. It would make a lifetime of magical inventions an absolute dream.
Of course, a silver and a bronze pardon were nothing to sneeze at, but it was rumored that only the King’s Guard and his Spymaster held such precious tokens.
The whispering grew fiercer and Ravina rolled her eyes to the ceiling. It was on the tip of her tongue to speak, until she remembered the last, humiliating time she’d done so.
Her toes curled in her boots and she pressed her lips together.
“It was last night,” Emma Cameron said, in hushed tones. She tucked a gleaming curl of gold behind one bejeweled ear. “It was!”
“I heard it was stolen right out from under the Watchdog’s nose,” Janessa Wright murmured.
“That’s not true!” Emma hissed. Her thin hands fisted beneath the furred cuffs of her sky-blue robe.
Janessa perked a brow. “But Mother said that-“
“Your mother attends the same court as mine,” Ulrica Weston snorted. “And all the rest of it. You can’t steal something out from under the Watchdog’s nose, he’s the King’s Watchdog for a reason!”
“Then you explain how it disappeared, Weston,” Thomas Brighton said, sharply. The look he gave all three girls earned him three sullen glares. “You shouldn’t speak of things that you know nothing about.”
Ravina looked from the girls to the senior apprentice. Thomas was a nice sort of fellow, even if he did have a sharp tongue and Ceros’s favor. She hadn’t heard anything for the morning—not that she’d been listening for anything, but now that she thought of it, there weren’t as many students as she’d expected either…
“Has anyone else come up with a suggestion?” Emma shot back, ice blue eyes snapping fiercely. “Don’t you be acting like you’re all that, Mister Brighton, when I know where you-“
“I know my rank and I know yours,” Thomas cut in. “I also recall Magician Ceros asking for everyone to focus on the upcoming exam. Perhaps if you were paying attention in your classes, you wouldn’t be sitting here on this bench.”
A collective gasp came from the trio before Ulrica drew herself up. She’d exploded her wand the previous day. “Now listen here-!” she began, furiously.
“Sit up straight and keep your wands, hands and focus objects—where I can see them!” Thomas said, smoothly. He swished off, his Senior apprentice robes floating just high enough off the ground to keep from gathering dust.
Ravina watched him glide off and then turned to the still puffed up Ulrica. Her expectant stare caused the older girl to flush a healthy shade of pink, before she wrinkled her freckled nose.
“What happened last night?”
Janessa and Emma sniggered in tandem—as they always did whenever Ravina seemed to ask a particularly stupid question. “You haven’t heard? Where were you? In a basement?”
“In a dungeon, most likely. Slaving away,” Janessa said, loftily. “You know how the scholarship types always have to stay on their toes.”
“Tch,” Emma rolled her eyes, flapping a gloved hand at them. “Be kind to the less fortunate—or so father tells me. Honestly, if you would read a news bulletin, you would know.”
Ravina ground her teeth together. She tried to count from one to ten and got stuck somewhere at three.
But Emma took pity on her as she drew her glittery silver wand out from voluminous robe sleeves and laid it innocently over her lap. “It’s only the-“
“Attention, attention, please!” High Magician Ceros stood in the center of the stage, his hands raised, voice magically amplified. “Thank you. The testing will begin shortly. Assemble according to your classroom sorting and proceed as directed. The Senior apprentices will instruct you as needed. Please remember this is a serious occasion and a realistic environment. You are using live spells that may cause personal injury, regardless of whether you cast it with harmful intent. Power is not in blasting a wall to pieces, but rather, in being able to demolish the wall—a single break at a time.”
“Excuse me—but where’s High Magician Maurous?” Irvin, one of the graduating hopefuls, raised a hand, his short stubby wand, glowing a faint golden at the tip.
Ceros paused, a flicker of displeasure on his face, before he inclined his head. “An honest question and perhaps, if we address this, the testing may take place in relative peace with no further interruptions?”
A rippling murmur of assent flowed through the room.
“Good,” Ceros said, briskly. “As some of you may be aware, something was—stolen—from the castle last night. I am not at liberty to say what it was, though, if you believe you have information that may be helpful, you are encouraged to visit Lord Greyson during his evening office hours.”
Another smattering of chatter rose—quieting when Ceros cleared his throat.
“I need not remind you that should any one of you be discovered to have unknowingly or knowingly participated in this theft, the punishment will be most severe and the Magical Training Academy will not stand behind you.” Ceros strode to the far end of the stage, taking up his position from the previous day. “High Magician Maurous is attempting to lend his expertise at this time and is unable to join us during the exam period. High Magician Talia will act in his place.”
On cue, the tall, grey-haired lady shuffled into sight. She was hunched over, seemingly from the weight of her massive, bejeweled collar—but was really only from age. There was a beautiful walking stick, equally bejeweled to match the collar, that allowed her to navigate her way to the stage.
As she came to stand at her place, a powerful, pulsing wave of magic washed down and over the filled hall. Her eyes, glowed a vibrant, verdant green. Her body might have aged, but little else had suffered.
Irvin, however, wasn’t the least bit distracted by her arrival. His little brain had been busily whirring away and now, it proposed a new question that required an answer. “Sir—what was taken?”
Ceros paled, fractionally, before a forced smile settled over his weathered face. It seemed to settle into the corners of his mouth and the creases of his forehead.
For a long, agonizing moment, everyone wondered whether he would answer.
He did something with one hand, hidden behind the other and every student gasped, reaching up to scrabble at their necks.
Ravina choked. The suffocating shock of magic had caught her off guard. It burned, briefly, before it faded into a dull ache just beneath the skin—and her worried fingers.
A wide-scale privacy spell that would ensure no one went running their mouths. A spell that only a Master Magician could cast.
It made her squirm in her seat, her own magic trying and failing to reject the geas imposed upon her. To her own secret delight, her fellow seat mates weren’t any better off.
Emma seemed to have to worst reaction, nearly snapping her pretty wand as she gasped for breath.
Seconds later, the worst of it faded and a collective murmur of surprise and outrage mingled together.
Ceros merely stared down at them, imposing and immovable in his sudden fierceness. “That was for your own safety,” he said, matter-of-factly. “As for your question,” he pinned Irvin with a look. “What is missing, is the key to the King’s Armory, Mister Caldwell.” Ceros said, tiredly. “The only key to the King’s Armory, with not a single clue left behind.”
A/N: Well, well, it looks like there’s a few more characters…and the key to the armory is missing. Charming. Can we suppose who might have stolen it? Maybe? Yes? No? Ah, perhaps not. but let’s see who has what happening. We’re still setting things up here and hopefully, I’ll be able to get the fourth installment out with less of a gap this time around. Happy Reading folks! ^_^