The bus was late, which gave Faine plenty of time to worry about what he'd gotten himself into. When he'd called the academy the night before, they told him to pack a backpack full of camping supplies then wait outside his house at six o'clock in the morning. Faine was told that in order to enter the academy, he had to go through initiation.
Whatever that meant.
At long last, a blue school bus came barrelling down the street. It pulled to a hard stop in front of Faine's house. The bus driver opened the door and offered Faine a wide smile. "Mornin' kid." He said. His arms were filled with faded tattoos and he was missing his fair share of teeth. "You ready for this?"
"Ready as I'll ever be."
"That's the spirit!" The man replied giddily. "My name is Robert, but everyone calls me Bob. I'm a professor at the academy."
Faine tried to hide his surprise. Bob looked more like a trucker than a professor. Then again, maybe he was both. Faine adjusted his backpack and stepped onto the bus. Despite it being so early in the morning, the bus was full of energy. Everyone was chatting like they were old friends. Near the back of the bus, Faine spotted an outlier. The girl was sitting with her arms crossed, glaring at Faine as if to say: "I dare you to talk to me."
Ignoring his gut instinct to leave the girl alone, Faine approached her and pointed at the empty seat beside her. "Can I sit here?"
Her icy gaze slowly wandered to his prosthetic arm. "I didn't realize the academy was recruiting cripples."
"Well I didn't realize they were recruiting assholes." Faine snapped. "They must be really desperate."
Without saying another word, Faine turned on his heel to find another seat. The last available spot was near the middle of the bus. Faine sat down silently.
"I haven't seen you around before." The boy beside him said. "Are you from one of the Pennsylvania branches? Delaware maybe?"
Faine looked up and forced a smile. "I'm new to the whole exorcist thing, actually."
"That's weird. I thought outsiders weren't becoming exorcists nowadays."
The girl sitting behind him groaned. "Lucas, you can't call people outsiders." She said. "That's rude."
"Well excuse me, Maya. I didn't realize you were the word police." Lucas replied, putting his feet up on the chair in front of him. He looked at Faine. "You don't mind being called an outsider, right?"
Faine had no idea how to respond. "Uh...I don't know."
"Ignore my dumb little brother." Maya said. "He has chronic foot-in-mouth disease."
"I'm three minutes younger than you. For the last time, that doesn't make me your little brother." Lucas muttered.
Faine looked around. No wonder everyone on the bus seemed like old friends--they were! Over the years, exorcist communities had popped up all over the world. They had their own schools, stores, and neighborhoods. In short, exorcists had created their own culture. A culture Faine knew very little about.
Lucas grinned at Faine. "I don't care if you are an outsider, I'm happy you want to become an exorcist."
Maya nodded in agreement. "Exorcists are in high demand."
Cautiously, Faine turned around to look at the girl who'd been rude to him hen he'd first entered the bus. "Do either of you know what her issue is?"
Lucas blew a bubble with his gum and popped it. "Who? Joana? Nobody likes her."
'I wonder why.' Faine thought.
The bus continued down the highway for about an hour until it veered off a narrow exit. It wasn't long before Faine realized he was in the middle of nowhere. Bob parked the bus next to an old campsite and motioned for the wannabe students to exit the bus and line up. Faine did just that, and somehow ended up standing next to Joana. He avoided eye contact with her at all costs.
Bob blew his whistle. "Alright kids, quiet down. As you already know, initiation takes place to gauge the potential of incoming students. At the end of the day, you will be given a score. Anything below 50% will place you in a remedial class, scores between 50% and 80% will place you in an average class. Lastly the few of you who earn above an 80% will earn a spot in an advanced class."
Maya raised her hand. "That's nice and all, but what exactly will we be being scored on?"
"That's the surprise." Bob replied. "There will be three tests today, the first of which is simply an enurance course to test your physical strength. The second and third tests will remain a mystery for now."
Faine gulped. An endurance course? Three tests? What if he was expected to complete tasks he was physically incapable of doing?
Bob began walking down a dirt path, and the slew of students followed. He stopped in front of a murky lake. Faine had to squint to see all the way across it.
Bob put on a pair of sunglasses. "The first part of the obstacle course tests your endurance. As you already know, there are many species of demons that live in the water. As an exorcist, you will be expected to know how to fight them. Your first task is to swim across this lake. Once you make it to the other side, await further instructions. Good luck."
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