Chapter 1

It was still dark in District Green as the Academy tram approached House 13. Delylah Ryker waited at the House's main entrance for her best friend, Marina. The House, like all the others, was similar to a hotel or a college dormitory. The first level had a kitchen, small café, dining room, and recreation room. All of the levels above that were residence. There were about 50 Houses in each District, and each House held around 100 families, but Delylah only really knew about 6 of the people in her House.

Marina finally appeared at the stairs and dashed to the door. Marina was a year older than Delylah and a couple of inches taller, with caramel skin and wavy chocolate hair that reached her waist. She was one of those people who could be gorgeous without cosmetics. That didn't stop her from wearing them, though, and she did look radiant this morning as she joined Delylah on the path to the tram stop. As usual, she spoke of nothing but boys.

"Do you remember Dyllon Parks from District Yellow? He's sooo sweet. He offered to carry my bag for me all the way to the Academy from the stop yesterday, and then—get this—he had me sit with him and his guys at lunch!" Marina was beaming. "And then there was Kennedy, who said only I can make a uniform look like a ball gown." The girls boarded the tram, and several other boys from the District watched Marina and smiled bashfully if she looked their way. Delylah knew that her best friend would have no trouble finding a husband when the time came. She was the most beautiful and charming girl Delylah had ever met; just being in Marina's presence made her feel better about herself.

"What about you, Lylah? Have you noticed anyone?" Marina smoothed her green uniform dress over her knees, oblivious of the silly grins directed her way.

Delylah, however, let her tunic hang as she planted her feet on the cushion and tented her legs. "I don't know," she mumbled, looking halfheartedly at the male passengers. She was interested in a few boys, but they never seemed to notice her. That, or she was too awkward and shy to try to get their attention. "I like Trystran Hollander. He seems nice. And cute." Really cute, she thought. It occurred to her then that she had quite a large crush on Trystran. The thought made her ears grow hot.

Marina's face turned serious. "Honey," she practically whispered, "he's a Black. We Greens don't hang with Blacks."

"I know," Delylah sighed. "It's stupid."

Marina shrugged, as if to say, "it is what it is."

About 15 minutes later, the tram stopped in the enormous Academy lot, and the passengers disembarked. Students from all Districts milled about on the lawn or sat on the steps of the Academy. Situated at the center of the Province of Aerryn, the Academy looked like a Roman cathedral. A grand archway welcomed students into the courtyard from which the different wings of the building branched. Pillars supported vaulted ceilings and arched breezeways, and the breathtaking stained glass murals and majestic arches and spires made it the most exquisite building in the Province. Every District had its own elementary and intermediate schools, but all high school and college classes took place at the Academy.

Delylah watched the ground as she descended the steps of the tram. A group of girls from Districts Blue and White surrounded Marina and asked Delylah if she would join them. As usual, she declined. The girls meant well, but Delylah didn't belong with them. It had nothing to do with their Districts—aquatic District Blue and wind-swept District White got along perfectly fine with the Empaths of District Green—but the girls were so pretty, so confident, so outgoing, and Delylah was so...not. Sure, people told her she was lovely and talented, but she had a hard time believing that.

Still watching her feet, Delylah shuffled down the path to the stairs of the Academy. Startled by the sudden sound of voices behind her, Delylah whipped her head around to look behind her. Nothing. Head still turned, she took a step forward and met with disaster.

Her toe caught the edge of the step and she went flying forward, arms wide. She hit the stairs hard, catching a step with her shin and scraping her hands as she tried to catch herself. Her palms burned, her knee burned, and her shin screamed with pain. Her books were everywhere.

"Hey," said a concerned voice behind her; "are you ok?"

Before she could scramble to her feet, a strong arm wrapped around her shoulder and lifted her gently. Delylah put weight on her right leg and flinched at the needles of pain stabbing her shin.

"Easy," her assistant said. "Can you stand on it?"

"Yeah," Delylah said. Absolutely not, Delylah thought. Steadying herself, she turned to thank her savior, and her heart leapt into her throat.

It was Trystran. Trystran Hollander.

Trystran was easily the most beautiful boy Delylah had ever seen. Being a Hunter already made him sexy. His weight-lifter body made him more so. His cheekbones had a slight arch that led up to his large, golden-brown eyes, thick eyebrows, and strong forehead. His soft black hair brushed his shoulders, his square jaw dimpled when he smiled, and he had soft, full lips that were parted as if to speak again. Delylah had a sudden urge to kiss him.

Realizing that she was staring, Delylah cast about desperately for something else to do with her useless hands and brain. She bent to pick up her books and her scraped knee protested.

"Hey, hey, let me get that." Trystan pulled Delylah back to standing and set about gathering her books.

Delylah waited awkwardly, suddenly aware that she was being watched. Marina, still near the tram stop, was smirking, and one of her friends was grinning and giving Delylah a thumbs-up. Some others had stopped talking and started staring, and some were busily tapping on their commcells, most likely telling their friends all about the idiot who took a spill on the stairs and got the attention of the hottest sophomore in the Academy. Trystran finally stood, blocking Delylah from general view.

"You tore your pants," he whispered, "and your leg doesn't look too good. Let's get you to the medic." Delylah's and his books in one arm, Trystran offered her his other arm and walked her into the Academy. Delylah was so distracted by the hateful glances cast at her from the other Hunters that she nearly collided with Trystran when he stopped.

"Here we are," Trystran said, smiling. He opened the door and ushered her into the medic's office, where the Empath medic was busily sorting bandages. She didn't stop what she was doing or question the newcomers, so Trystran spoke up.

"She tripped on the stairs and scraped up her leg," he said.

"Ok, I'll take a look at it," the medic replied. She began to murmur inaudibly as she approached Delylah and examined her swollen leg. Trystran turned to leave, and Delylah finally found her voice.

"Thanks, T...Trystran."

Trystran smiled warmly. "No problem."

"You have feelings for young Hollander," the medic commented once Trystran had left.

Delylah felt her face grow hot. "No, no, I just...I..." Her voice abandoned her yet again.

The medic smiled wanly. "Be careful, dear. He is a Hunter. Empaths should not bond with Hunters."

Delylah sighed. "I know."