The air was sticky and thick with the heat of cramped bodies and lack of fresh air. Everyone sat side by side on rickety wooden benches, the boat jostling their legs with every violent wave that crashed into the side of the boat.

Alea felt sick to her stomach. The dimly lit quarters of the belly of the boat and the fact she felt like she was being squashed by strangers did not help. She felt like this class and mode of transportation was inhumane, but this was all she could afford to pay to cross the sea. A particularly violent wave crashed into the boat and sent her headfirst into the person in front of her.

"Ouch!" yelped the person.

"Ah! I'm sorry!" Alea stammered. She nervously twisted the end of one of her pig tails. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine. Don't worry about it." The person never ever bothered to turn around.

Alea was embarrassed. She gripped the front of her seat and willed herself to stay put. She wasn't sure how much longer they'd be on the boat, but she was sure they'd dock soon...or at least she hoped so.

Four hours later, the boat finally did dock. Alea and the others who had been below deck stumbled out onto the deck blinking and wandered around slightly dazed. The sudden transition from the darkness below left Alea a bit faint, although she was very glad to be out and about. Shadows were becoming lengthy, but the sun looked like it still had a couple hours in it before it would completely set. Alea grabbed her luggage and hurried off the boat. She would need to find her escort who was supposedly awaiting her arrival. Alea darted between the people who had gotten off the boat before her, which was pretty easy to do because she small. Oftentimes people mistook her for being several years younger than she was, and this time was no exception. She found her escorts who were holding up a sign that said "The Academy," and the first thing they said to one another when they saw her coming towards them in the prescribed black uniform was "they really are getting younger every year, aren't they?" Then the taller one turned to Alea and asked for her name and documents.

"Ah-uh-Alea," stuttered Alea. She kicked herself mentally. Why was she stuttering already? That was such an easy question. She reddened a bit but she was prepared to hand her papers over, she had clutched them to her chest ever since she got off the boat.

The escort clucked her tongue as she sifted through Alea's papers. "Looks all right. Just wait a bit, we're expecting seven more of you from this boat."

Alea was surprised. She would've guessed the other students to have come by train or carriage to The Academy, but she guessed that The Academy really was that generous to have several students come from abroad. Maybe there were a lot of benefactors involved. Either that or the others were fairly well off. Alea herself was given a scholarship.

A trio of boys strolled over to the escorts. They didn't seem related, yet walked with the ease of familiarity in knowing who was beside them. The shortest boy (who was still half a head taller than Alea) walked with a limp and had blindingly white hair-Alea wondered how he kept it so white and clean. The next boy seemed really serious, he had strode over to the escorts and shook their hands before handing over his papers. He straightened his jacket and snapped back to attention when the taller escort commented on his good penmanship. The third boy trailed behind him, sandy-haired and very freckled, he glanced over at Alea with disinterest and rustled through his bag before handing over his somewhat crumpled documents. The shorter escort's eyebrows knit together and a slight frown formed at the edge of his lips, but said nothing. Their names, Alea overheard, were Icarus, Taro, and Marco.

Alea nervously started to pull on one of her pigtails again. She had never really talked to boys before; was it expected that she go and socialize with them now?

Her train of thought was deflected when three others came in succession; two more boys and a girl.

Alea became acutely aware of the differences between herself and the one other girl. The other girl was tall and slim, her uniform looked crisp and new, her hair was long, dark, and flowed loosely over her shoulders. Her skin was as pale as alabaster, which made her features even more striking due to the contrast. A couple of the boys seemed to be looking at the new girl up and down and were whispering. She ignored them. She seemed confident and so sure of herself. Elegance was probably her middle name. Alea shrank into her shell a little more; this girl didn't seem like she would talk to-

"Hello," said the girl.

Alea was shocked. The girl was talking to her. Quick, she needed to reply with something intelligent. Um, how did one greet another person again?

"Hi," said Alea, uncertainty in her voice.

"I'm Catarina. What's your name?"


"Nice to meet you Alea."

"You too."

Catarina smiled. Alea felt relief course through her like a bubbly spring. Catarina seemed like a nice person!

"Attention everyone! We've just called for two carriages and the group will split up, four with Master Antwon and four with me, Master North. Hop to now, we want to arrive at The Academy in time for supper."

Alea followed Catarina into a carriage with the boys she recalled being Taro and Marco. The other four students-all boys as the last arrival also happened to be a boy, clambered into the carriage with Master North.

Catarina leaned over and whispered into Alea's ear, "What do you think they'll have for supper? I'm so hungry I think I could eat both of the carriage horses!"

Alea was again shocked. Catarina was nice AND had a sense of humor? Alea grinned and replied, "I think I'm so hungry I could eat both carriages' set of horses!"

Catarina giggled, covering her mouth as she did so. Even her fingernails looked perfectly manicured and-

"Hey," said Marco, jarring Alea's train of thought. He looked pointedly at Catarina.

"Hello," she said politely.

"Catarina right?" Catarina nodded. "I'm Marco." Catarina opened her mouth to say it was a pleasure to meet him but didn't get the chance to as Marco cut her off by saying, "Wanna go out sometime?"

Taro, who had just made himself comfortable among the cushions in the carriage spat out the mint he was chewing and threw a look of disgust at Marco. Alea stared. Catarina suddenly became still. "I'm sorry?" she asked. Good thing Master Antwon was still trying to give directions to the carriage driver outside.

Marco shrugged. "You seem like a decent girl, and really pretty besides. Plus I wanted to be able to ask you right away because I heard one of the guys in the other carriage was planning on asking you."

An awkward silence filled the carriage before Catarina answered. "I'm sorry, but I don't even know you?"

"We just met. I said my name was Marco."

Catarina pursed her lips. "That's not what I meant. I don't know you as a person."

"So that's a no?"

"That's a no."

Taro who had been glaring at Marco the entire exchange suddenly spoke. "My cousin Marco here tends to speak and act impulsively. I'm sorry if he's made you uncomfortable, Catarina. I can promise you we-boys that is-are not all like that." Marco slouched in his seat.

Catarina laughed lightly but didn't say anything more. She shifted in her seat and Alea turned to her with eyes still so wide she could see the tips of her pink bangs fringing at the top of her eyes. Catarina sighed as Master Antwon climbed into the carriage.

"Heavy sighs already? Have you all gotten acquainted with each other yet? I'm Master Antwon, in charge of the general introductory studies in the Pirate department. Are any of you thinking about becoming a Pirate?" He looked at Alea. She shook her head.

"Um I felt so seasick on the boat I don't think I could ever handle being a Pirate," Alea said honestly. "Otherwise I'm not sure yet."

"Understandable-except there are now pills manufactured now to counteract seasickness. And Pirates aren't necessarily stationed on a boat or even near the sea. What about you two young men?"

"I plan on studying the clerical path of Magicians," Taro answered. "I don't know either. Maybe a Corsair," said Marco who sat up straight for two seconds to answer the question and then resumed his slumped position on the cushioned seat.

"And what about you?" Master Antwon nodded at Catarina.

"I'm debating on which Thief path to take," Catarina answered politely. Alea cocked an eyebrow and both Taro and Marco looked at Catarina as well. She seemed to be full of surprises. If Alea were to have guessed, she would've pegged Catarina as some type of Archer, or even possibly on the Magician path. Alea thought Catarina's middle name was probably Enigma at this point.

Master Antwon nodded. "The Night Lord and Shadower path both include very vigorous training and high intuitive skill. I'm sure you'll know in time which path is more natural for you." Master Antwon launched into a lecture about expectations, rules, and gave a bit more information on each possibly pathway. Alea fidgeted in her seat and wanted to look outside the window pretty badly but felt like she should be paying attention to what Master Antwon was saying. She didn't know which path to choose really. As a child she had fashioned her own crude set of bow and arrows, but she had always loved reading books and learning. And once in awhile she could get so angry she'd punch stuff to let steam out, so she could even see herself as some kind of Warrior. Alea even fancied the thought of being some kind of Pirate-on land. She smiled at herself, amused at the image. She wasn't so sure about the path of the Thief, but she would give it a shot anyway. Best to try everything out before she made a decision, because the decision was irreversible.