Winterrun Academy

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Chapter One

The sun beats down on her hair. Her pale blond hair is curled slightly at the ends. She's wearing a pink summer dress with yellow tulips. Blinding blue eyes stare into a field full of flowers. The child calls some inaudible words to her mother behind the trees, and then the child is gone. Gone- not lost. She feels at home frolicking in the tall grasses.

Suddenly, though, the wind changes. Her hair looks white as clouds shift in front of the sun. The child's mother is looking for her. She's lost now. In the middle of a storm. A ripple of grasses, and there's two of her. She's been duplicated. One's blond, one's scarlet. The sun comes out from behind the cloud, and the twin is gone. The child is crying. Her mother finds her, and embraces the child. Immense happiness flows from the child, and she feels safe. The mother smiles, and looks down into the child's violet eyes. "You're safe."

Lilah:

I lie restlessly in a cold sweat, my silk sheets cocooning my tired body. A shaft of morning light illuminates the dust in front of my window. I had that dream again. The one where I was five. With the forest, and my eyes... I was so happy. Yet now, as I lie here, an immense sadness presses down on my chest. I start to play with a piece of my blond hair.

A knock on my chamber doors shakes the stillness from the room. "Lilah?" I hear my mother's voice full of concern.

"Come in," I call. My mother opens the wooden doors with a creak, and closes them with a bang. She's still in her robe and nightdress, her blond hair unbrushed, yet perfectly in place. "What is it?" I ask, sitting up. Her tired face shows discomfort, sadness. A browned envelope rests in her hands.

"Honey, this came in the mail," she sits down next to me, as I swing my legs over the side of the bed. "It's a letter from the Academy." I give her a quizzical look.

"What Academy?" I say, puzzled.

My mom swallows hard, "Winterrun."

The blood drains out of my face. "What do they want with me?" I ask in a strained voice. I take the envelope from her hands and run my smooth fingers over it's crumpled surface. I see the return address on the front, in blue ink;

Winterrun Academy

83057 Winterrun Mountain Rd

Winterrun Provence, Alger

It feels so uneven, like sandpaper. "Should I open it?" I ask.

My mom nods. I turn the letter over in my hands and begin to peel off the sealing flap. I wonder what fate has waiting for me inside. I take the letter out of the envelope, and unfold it. My mind can't seem to begin to comprehend what's written inside.

Princess Lilah Dracavnio Sona Rayhim of Rayhim Provence,

It is with the greatest pleasure that I extend this invitation to study at Winterrun Academy. We believe that you have gifts that can be developed in the finest manner, and we would like you do come learn how to do that at Winterrun Academy. Not many get a change like this, and we recommend that you consider it with the highest urgency. The next semester is starting soon, and if you do choose to join us, we would be delighted.

Thank you for considering,
Jill Winterrun

I look at my mom in astonishment. "How do they know my full title? No one knows it. It's one of the families most guarded secrets!" My mom looks down at my sheets, and fiddles with the corner of one with her hand. She simply shakes her head.

"We don't know. Your father and I received a letter similar to this, telling us where to bring you, and what to bring." My mom looks up from fiddling with my sheet.

I'm taken aback. "What? H-how can you think of s-sending me to a place like that? Isn't magic illegal?! I-I...." I stop in the middle of my sentence, looking to my mom for answers.

She just sighs. "We think-"

"You think? You and dad? Of course. Why wouldn't you want to ship me off to a place for... freaks." I blink and look away, toward my window, out on Rayhim City. It looks blurry, and then I realize that I have tears in my eyes.

My mom grabs my hand, and I look back at her.

"That's not true, sweetheart. Your... ability could be improved there. We just want what's best for you." My mom looks me in the eyes, not flinching at all. I know how much pain she must be in, so I look down.

"I'm sorry, mom," I murmur.

My mom lifts my chin up. "You can't change who you are. Your father and I are trying to help you. Can't you see that? At the Academy, they can." I see the sadness in my mom's eyes.

I swallow, and say, "When do I start?"

O o o o O o o o O o o o O o o o O

Bea:

Faeryll nuzzles my cheek. Her soft brown fur feels sleek against my skin. I laugh and run my hand through her mane. She neighs and snorts. "I know, I know," I say. "Here's what you really want." I take a sugar cube out of my basket and set it in the palm of my right hand. Faeryll leans her head down and gobbles it up. I chuckle and move down to the next stall. Unlike Faeryll, our Arabian, Frankie is a bay, which according to my dad, is a less elegant version of a brown Arabian. Frankie throws her head back, in annoyance, as if she can hear my thoughts. I feed her a carrot, because she's on a special diet. Put on a bit too much weight this spring. I move on to Dina's stall, when suddenly I hear a loud racket behind me.

Thomas, the town messenger, is on the ground next to a pile of overturned buckets. I set down my own bucket with sugar and carrots, and go over to help him.

"You ok, Tom?" I ask him. I reach out my hand to help him up.

Tom grins gleefully and stands up, "Thanks, Bea. Wasn't looking where I was going, as always." I smile as he brushes himself off. I tuck my hands into the pockets of pants, my long sleeved white shirt shifting on my arms.

After a few seconds of awkward silence, I say, "So, uh, why exactly are you here?" He blinks once, then coughs.

"Right, yes, of course." He blushes and reaches into his bag. "A letter, for you, Bea. It's from The Academy." I take the letter gingerly, the yellow parchment feeling oddly soft in my over-worked hands.

"Which academy?" I flip the paper over to look at the address, but Tom beats my brain to contemplate what I'm seeing.

"The Academy. Winterrun," he clarifies. The red from my blushing face leaves as quickly as it came. My face is white snow falling on a mountain with dead trees.

I swallow. Tom is right, this is from Winterrun Academy. I don't look at him, "Thanks, you can go."

Tom seems about to say something, but then turns to leave. His footsteps brush up the sand.

I tuck the envelope into my back pants pocket, and calmly finish my work- feed Dina and Stellar, put equipment away, close up the stables- all while focusing so intently on my chores that the looming Winterrun Academy is far from mind.

When I close the barn door, I know that it is time to meet my fate. I take a deep breath and step up onto our front porch. The once light wood beneath my feet is now a dark brown from the weathering.

I turn to look back out at our fields, and our barn. The sky is a pale white. Only clouds of grey could be seen. A cold, desolate feeling clung to my bones. I felt as if I were the only person in the whole world. But... I'm not. My mind wanders back to Winterrun Academy, and I decide to go inside. I turn around and walk inside, my feet sliding on the waterlogged wood.

The screen door creaks as I walk into the kitchen. My dad looks up from reading a paper, The Rayhim News, and says, "Bea, the horses alright? I heard a racket." His bushy beard is greying, black with bits of salt and pepper.

I swallow, and shake my head. "Um, no, yeah, yeah, everything's fine. It was just Thomas, he fell down when delivering the mail. The buckets are ok, too." I give my dad a tight smile.

He chuckles. "Well, that's Thomas for you. What'd he bring?"

I take a deep breath. "A letter of application from an academy." I force my hands to stop shaking.

"Where's mom?" the gravel in my voice doesn't help, "she should be here for this."

My dad doesn't seem to notice my uneasiness. "Yeah, I'll go get her." He stands up and sets the paper down. "Patricia, Bea's got mail!" He calls us a set of stairs. They go from the kitchen-dining area to the bedrooms up stairs. After a long silence, my dad sighs. "I'll be right back," he says to me. I just nod.

I need to sit down. I go to the comfy chair that my dad was sitting in. I plop down on the brown leather. I take the letter out of my back jeans pocket, and set it down next to my dad's paper. That's when the headline of The Rayhim News catches my eye; 'The 15 Year Anniversary of Winterrun's Magic Permit, The Crazy King.' I pick up the paper.

'15 years ago, the King of Alger declared that in the province of Winterrun, magic would be permitted, so that they could teach it at Winterrun Academy. The King later states that, "No one in their right mind would ever go to that Academy, so I can't see why not to do it!" The King has always been a kind soul, but this is a new level of peculiarity. Yet, so far, no harm has come from the Mages of Winterrun.'

I set the paper down. Great, just my luck. I can only hope that my dad was looking at the produce section. I look up to see my cat Whiskers come in the screen door, wet. He looks miserable. It has started raining. I get up to close the door, picking my letter up, too. I shut the screen door, and close and lock the wooden one. I turn to see my parents walking down the stairs. Patricia, my mom, comes down after my dad, Jeremy.

I glance down at Whiskers and swallow. The letter rests on my knee, looking toward the floor.

My mom and dad sit down across from me, on a large black sofa. It's comfy cushions give way to a softer lifestyle. My mom breaks the silence,"Your dad tells me that you got a letter of application from an Academy." It's not really a question, but I nod.

"Um, yeah, Thomas delivered it." I seem to be hovering between denial and self-doubt.

"Which Academy?" My dad asks the fateful question.

"Winterrun."

My parents' faces are as white as mine were. "What? What do they want with you?" My mom stands up and walks over to me, standing behind my chair. My dad comes to the other side.

"Well, open it!" My dad urges. I tear the seal of the envelope and take out the letter, unfolding it and holding it in my hands. What I read is unlike what I could have imagined;

Bea Milan Juniper of Rayhim Provence,

It is with the greatest pleasure that I extend this invitation to study at Winterrun Academy. We believe that you have gifts that can be developed in the finest manner, and we would like you do come learn how to do that at Winterrun Academy. Not many get a change like this, and we recommend that you consider it with the highest urgency. The next semester is starting soon, and if you do choose to join us, we would be delighted.

Thank you for considering,
Jill Winterrun

There's a chill in the room. A drafty breeze seems to be coming in through an open window. I look up at my parents. "Mom, Dad?" I'd never thought that I would get an opportunity like this, but I don't want to take it. I love my life here, and have no ounce of magic in my blood.

"Why would they ask me- me of all people?" I ask my dad. He doesn't seem to hear me, he's exchanging a sidelong glance with my mother. "You know I don't have magic." I look at my mom.

She looks as if she's finally made up her mind about something. All she says is, "Go pack."


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