Valiant hearts book one.., p.1
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       Valiant Hearts, Book One: The Academy, p.1

           Kathleen King
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Valiant Hearts, Book One: The Academy


  Valiant Hearts, Book One: The Academy

  Copyright 2015 Kathleen King

  Other Books in the Valiant Heart Series

  Book Two: The Moahs

  Book Three: The Magician’s Heart

  Table of Contents

  Book One: The Academy

  Other Books by the Author

  Book One: The Academy

  The spike of ice shattered against the target’s center. Tiny particles rained down on the grass below. Seconds later another spike pierced the wood, driving its sharpened edge straight through the bull’s-eye.

  “Excellent!” Instructor Clayton praised. He and the class applauded. Some of them offered smiles and nods of congratulations. The rest pursed their lips and resigned themselves to clapping for appearance’s sake.

  Stephanie Asheron smiled and bowed graciously. “Thank you.” She stood and straightened out the wrinkles in her combat robes. They were a wonderful royal blue, trimmed with a perfect shade of aquamarine.

  They all stood in the middle of a grass field just outside the walls of the North Amber Academy. Behind her were a set of targets, one of which with a spear of ice through it. Barrels full of water sat beside her in a semi-circle.

  “It was perfect!” Clayton smiled. He turned to the rest of the class. “You’d all do well to follow her example. Exams are coming up soon and some of you…” He leaned over, passing his gaze over the rest of the class, focusing on each student just long enough to make them uncomfortable. “Some of you could use some more practice.” He burst out laughing, so much so he grabbed his chest. He took a deep breath when he was finished.

  Clayton was Stephanie’s combat instructor, and someone who wore his emotions on his sleeve. Today’s emotion seemed to be happiness, but Stephanie had seen – and been the victim of –Clayton’s more heated outbursts.

  He was very thin, straw-like even. He had mangy blonde hair and scruff on his cheeks and chin. He preferred to wear overalls with a long, sand colored shirt instead of the usual combat robes. Stephanie swore if he were just standing out in the middle of a field, birds would start making his shoulders their home.

  He was, as far as most of the students and faculty were concerned, a master manipulator of the water element. It also happened to be the same type of magic bending Stephanie specialized in.

  Each student at the North Amber Academy had an element they specialized in. Every student fit in one of the four categories: water, fire, earth, and air. The abilities you received all depended on what you were born with. For Stephanie and her friends, that was a love for the ocean.

  Stephanie fell into line with the rest of the class. Clayton put his arms behind his back and began pacing in front of them again. “Now… Who else would like to come forth and demonstrate their skill in front of the rest of the class? Does anyone think they could do as well as Stephanie?” He gestured over to her. Stephanie averted her eyes and felt her cheeks burn red. The class was jealous enough of her as it was, Clayton was only making things worse for her.

  'Maybe he knows that,' she considered. It wouldn’t be unlike him to try and encourage competition among the students.

  Another student stepped forward. Stephanie leaned forward to see her friend Sheru stepping up. She stood to attention, waiting for permission to continue. Clayton bowed partially and opened his arm in a gesture for her to continue.

  Sheru was about Stephanie’s height; tall but not too tall. Her flowing blonde hair was pulled back in a tight warrior’s knot. With round eyes and slim nose, she was easily one of the prettiest girls in the school. That did nothing to deter her from constantly practicing to be the best in her class, her lips set in determination.

  “Demonstrate for the rest of the class would you? Can you beat our ace?” Stephanie couldn’t tell if he was trying to egg her on or get the rest of the class fired up. She hoped it was the latter. Sheru didn’t need the extra stress as she already felt the pressure without needing any extra. Sheru positioned herself straight in front of the target. She twisted her feet, so they both faced the target and bent her knees. She looked frozen. Stephanie could see some of the students getting restless. Clayton had his arms folded, watching silently.

  With a speed of crackling lightning, Sheru’s arms moved the water from the barrel and launched it towards the target. Stephanie could feel the air being pulled alongside the water, the sound was barely audible. When all settled, the target was no longer in sight. The class stood in awe, and there was silence all around. Only small puddles remained on the ground.

  Clayton clicked his tongue against his teeth, breaking the silence. “Wonderful job.” He paused and looked back at his students. They were stunned. He began clapping.

  The class followed suit. Sheru seemed somewhat proud as she walked back to her spot. Clayton was smirking, and Stephanie couldn’t tell if he was making fun of her or not.

  With a flick of his wrist, the remaining water came off the ground and back into the barrel. “Well,” Clayton said as he dusted his hands off. “I think that’s enough for today. You had all better keep on practicing. Exams are coming up, and while most of you will be competing against each other, the top tier will go on to compete with the other classes. Now get goin’.” And with that he let the class go.

  Stephanie joined Sheru near the storage area. There were two large chests propped up against the brick walls of the Academy. “You did great today.” She told Sheru.

  Sheru shrugged and smiled faintly. “If you say so.”

  “Why the long face?” Stephanie was afraid Sheru had noticed Clayton’s sarcasm; she let these things get to her too much.

  “I don’t think I gave him what he was looking for.” Sheru shrugged again and slid off her combat robes, revealing the black jumpsuit underneath. She stowed the robes away and huffed. The crisp wind blew her hair in all sorts of directions. Sheru withdrew some regular day clothes, consisting of dark shirt and a thin pair of pants. Stephanie took a moment to do the same.

  “I’m sure he was just messing with you.” Stephanie leaned against the castle’s wall. “You know he does that to bother the more competitive students.”

  “Just once I’d like it if he weren’t such a sarcastic ass.” Sheru slammed the chest closed and sat on it.

  “He probably does it because he sees potential in you.” Stephanie honestly didn’t know what to say. Clayton had been picking on Sheru for years now, but she usually dealt with it. “Why is this bothering you so much?”

  “I guess it’s the exams.” She furrowed her brow and sighed. Her face was a bright red. Her eyes seemed tired.

  “Come on.” Stephanie stood up. “Let’s get some food. I’m sure a good meal will cheer you up.” She held out her hand.

  Sheru looked at the hand. Stephanie could see her considering it. “Come on…” Stephanie smiled. Sheru gave in and smiled, taking her hand.

  ***

  The pair entered the Academy, a giant castle made of a fusion of concrete and stone. The castle sat on the hilltops of Northern Amber and had been home to all the magic benders in Western Gold for several decades. Inside, the halls were brimming with students; each one there to learn and master their form of manipulation.

  Stephanie and Sheru made their way through the vast network of hallways to their destination: the lunch hall. It’s where all the students gathered to eat their meals and mingle in between classes. Usually the students were separated by their class, so this was one of the few times they were able to see each other.

  With heavy platters of food in hand, the two headed towards a table. The classes were physically intensive, so none of the students wasted the food on their plates. Step
hanie scanned the area, looking for her other classmates. As she looked around, she noticed the tables filled with students from other areas of the Academy. She wasn’t entirely against the idea of sitting with the other classes, but she preferred to stick with people she knew.

  Finally a hand stuck up in the air, waving them over. Stephanie stood up on her toes, but she still couldn’t see over the crowd of students.

  “Can you see?” Stephanie asked Sheru.

  Sheru stood up; she was only slightly taller than Stephanie, but even she couldn’t see anything. “Too many people.”

  Stephanie sighed. “I guess we should go over?” She looked around the hall. “It doesn’t look that there are any open seats…”

  Sheru shrugged. “Better than nothing.” They walked over, pushing their way through the mass of students while trying to balance all the food on their plates.

  “It’s about time. What took you guys so long?” It was Cole, a longtime friend of the same grade. He had something of a rough look to him with spiked brown hair and a scar on his chin that he loved to show off. He smiled at them while holding a spoon of pudding in his hand.

  Stephanie took her seat, “We were just talking about class.”

  Cole nodded, “Yeah… Clayton’s kind of an asshole isn’t he?”

  Stephanie shrugged. “You know how he gets about exams.”

  Sheru tilted her spoon and watched the food drop slowly off. “It’d be nice if he didn’t take it out on us.”

  “I don’t think he’s taking anything out on us. I think he enjoys it.” Cole said, shoving more food in his mouth.

  “But still, there are better ways to motivate us.” Stephanie rolled her eyes as Cole wiped crumbs off his face with his hands.

  Sheru nodded and finally began to dig into her plate. “Anyone think the Headmaster is going to speak today?”

  Cole shook his head and motioned upwards. “I don’t think so. He’s up there just chowin’ down along with Clayton and that smug smirk of his.”

  Stephanie craned her neck over to the upper deck where the faculty sat. Sure enough, the Headmaster, in all his aged glory, was sitting up there eating something Stephanie was quite sure was a chicken wing. He clearly enjoyed it because he was biting into it with great enthusiasm. It was all Stephanie could do not to break out into laughter.

  Clayton was there, along with all the other elemental teachers and some of the higher grounds staff. Stephanie wasn’t too sure of their names, but she rarely spoke to them, so she didn’t consider it a missed opportunity.

  She turned back to the table. “He does seem to be enjoying his chicken.”

  Sheru cracked a smile while Cole nearly choked on his pudding. “You’re not kidding.” He said.

  Stephanie went back to enjoying her food when she felt something tap her shoulder. She looked up and saw someone she didn’t recognize. “Is this seat taken?” The guy asked, pointing to the seat beside her.

  She hadn’t realized there was an empty seat beside her. Frankly she was shocked that it was still open. Someone must have just left. “No, go ahead.”

  He sat, dumping his bag onto the ground beside him. “Thanks. I’m new here, and it seems all the seats are taken in the other section.”

  New? That’s odd, Stephanie thought. He looked about Stephanie’s age, maybe slightly older. He wasn’t dressed in combat robes so Stephanie looked at his wristband – sort of an identifier for new students – to see what class he was. It was red. Fire class… Most students were accepted into the Academy at a very young age. Rare was the student who joined any later.

  “New?” Cole asked; his eyebrow arched in immediate confusion or was it out of suspicion? Stephanie wondered. “How’s that possible?”

  The guy smiled as he began to pick at his food. “Well, not new in the traditional sense. I’m new to this Academy, but I studied at the Eastern Quadrant for some time. They thought of me as a farmer. Can you believe it?” He laughed as if everyone was joining in.

  “How did you wind up here?” Cole asked, suddenly very interested in their guest. Being a new student so late in the term was certainly odd, but Stephanie didn’t have the energy to question it right now.

  “Booking error apparently.” Their guest said. “I don’t really know the particulars. My brother took care of most of that.”

  “Did your brother study here?” Cole asked. Now Stephanie was afraid he was a little too curious. Cole had a habit of embarrassing himself the longer he continued to talk.

  But the new student didn’t bat an eye. He just continued eating in between words. “I guess so? He’s a fair bit older than me, but I know he really wanted me to go here. Apparently I have ‘natural’ talent.” He said with an odd smirk. Suddenly he stopped and looked around at each of them. The silence hung there for a moment. “I just realized I’d never introduced myself. How incredibly rude of me.” He quickly wiped his fingers and extended his hand. “Name’s James.”

  They each shook hands. He seems nice enough, Stephanie thought. His smile was bright and charming. His eyes were a dark green and his hair a stark blonde. He reminded her a bit of a female version of Sheru. Tough, but strikingly good looking.

  “Nice to meet you,” Stephanie said with a charming smile.

  “So how are the fire classes treating you?” Sheru asked. “How’s your instructor?” She asked enviously.

  James looked up at the ceiling and squinted as if trying to recall something. “They’re going pretty well so far… I think my teacher’s name is… Dammit.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a notebook. As he flipped through the pages, Stephanie noticed several pages filled with sketches. The pages flipped by too fast for her to see exactly what they were.

  Eventually, he stopped at what looked like one of the very last pages. “Flynn! Yes. That’s her name.” He shook his head as he smiled. “She’s pretty good, very helpful with catching me up on all that I’ve missed for the past…”

  “Six years?” Cole finished for him. He looked like he was trying to see through James.

  “Yeah, that sounds about right.” James agreed, nodding along like Cole wasn’t acting weird at all.

  “That’s great. You think you’ll be ready for exams?” Sheru asked him, leaning over the table to look past Stephanie.

  James shrugged. “I don’t know really. I’m not too concerned with them right now.”

  Stephanie scoffed, nearly choking on her drink, “How could you not be? They’re pretty much the only way to earn a decent job nowadays.”

  The corner of his lip twitched into a smirk again. “We’re in a combat school. I don’t think we’ll have trouble finding a job.” He winked and piled the remains of his food back onto his plate. “Well, I best be off. Nice meeting you ladies. Cole.”

  They waved in return and Stephanie watched him walk off. He was certainly strange. Charming in a bizarre kind of way, but strange. Sheru agreed with her as they walked back to their dorms. “He’s definitely something new.”

  “Right?” Stephanie said, sliding her pack closer over her shoulder. “I’m not sure what to think of him so far.”

  “I bet I could tell you what Cole thinks of him.” Sheru had a sly smile on her face.

  Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Let’s not, please; I just ate.” She held her stomach.

  Sheru nudged her, “Come on, he’s not so bad. You’ve been friends since you guys started here. It’s natural to develop feelings .”

  Stephanie sighed. “I suppose there are worse options out there.”

  Sheru nodded heavily in agreement. “That’s for sure.”

  They turned the bend, coming upon the door to their dormitory. Stephanie grabbed the handle and twisted. With a hefty pull the door released itself from the wall and let them inside to the common room. The room lit with grand chandeliers and walls adorned with soft blue patterns. Stephanie loved nothing more than curling up on the couch with a book, watching the fireplace dance beside her.

 
Hey, so I never got a chance to tell you.” Sheru set her bag down on the nearby table.

  Stephanie drew in a sharp breath. Any sentence that opened like that was bound to be a bad one.

  Sheru took a seat. “I was talking to Lettle; Instructor Blake’s daughter…”

  Stephanie nodded, trying to rattle her brain to remember who those people were. She had such a terrible time with names and faces when it didn’t involve her friends.

  “…Well, she claims she overheard a conversation her father was having with some of the other teachers. She said they were talking about a war or an impending attack. I’m not really sure.” Sheru crossed her legs and folded her arms as she sat down at the table.

  Stephanie flopped down on the couch near the fireplace. “War? What do you mean?”

  Sheru shrugged. “I’m not sure. Lettle wasn’t either. She couldn’t hear too well. But she definitely heard something about Moah.”

  Stephanie sat up, a little curious. “Isn’t that where they made those nasty machines?”

  Sheru nodded. “Yeah, I think so. I don’t know why Moah would be going to war though.”

  “Aren’t those machines outlawed?” Stephanie wondered absently. It had been some time since she had brushed up on her history, but she was pretty sure that Moah wasn’t allowed to manufacture anything resembling weapons of war since the First World War.

  “Possibly. I guess it depends on how they’re using them? I wonder how often they send someone over to check how things are over there.” Sheru shrugged and began unloading her things and organizing them neatly on the table.

  Stephanie stared at the dancing flames “What would happen if there were another war?”

  Sheru paused her work. “I can’t imagine much. We beat them pretty thoroughly last time right?”

  Stephanie nodded, not entirely able to remember. “I suppose.”

  “It’s only a rumor. And knowing Lettle she probably made up half of it to get more attention.” Sheru said without turning around.

  Stephanie thought about that for a moment. “I guess you’re right,” she said, smiling. She tried her best to ignore the seed of worry that was growing in her stomach.

 
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