A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) - Naomi Novik

I DECIDED that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life. I hadn’t really cared much about him before then one way or another, but I had limits. It would’ve been all right if he’d saved my life some really extraordinary number of times, ten or thirteen or so—thirteen is a number with distinction. Orion Lake, my personal bodyguard; I could have lived with that. But we’d been in the Scholomance almost three years by then, and he hadn’t shown any previous inclination to single me out for special treatment.

Selfish of me, you’ll say, to be contemplating with murderous intent the hero responsible for the continued survival of a quarter of our class. Well, too bad for the losers who couldn’t stay afloat without his help. We’re not meant to all survive, anyway. The school has to be fed somehow.

Ah, but what about me, you ask, since I’d needed him to save me? Twice, even? And that’s exactly why he had to go. He set off the explosion in the alchemy lab last year, fighting that chimaera. I had to dig myself out of the rubble while he ran around in circles whacking at its fire-breathing tail. And that soul-eater hadn’t been in my room for five seconds before he came through the door: he must have been right on its heels, probably chasing it down the hall. The thing had only swerved in here looking to escape.

But who’s going to let me explain any of that? The chimaera might not have stuck to me, there were more than thirty kids in the lab that day, but a dramatic rescue in my bedchamber is on another level. As far as the rest of the school is concerned, I’ve just fallen into the general mass of hapless warts that Orion Lake has saved in the course of his brilliant progress, and that was intolerable.

Our rooms aren’t very big. He was only a few steps from my desk chair, still hunched panting over the bubbling purplish smear of the soul-eater that was now steadily oozing into the narrow cracks between the floor tiles, the better to spread all over my room. The fading incandescence on his hands was illuminating his face, not an extraordinary face or anything: he had a big beaky nose that would maybe be dramatic one day when the rest of his face caught up, but for now was just too large, and his forehead was dripping sweat and plastered with his silver-grey hair that he hadn’t cut for three weeks too long. He spends most of his time behind an impenetrable shell of devoted admirers, so it was the closest I’d ever been to him. He straightened and wiped an arm across the sweat. “You okay—Gal, right?” he said to me, just to put some salt on the wound. We’d been in the same lab section for three years.

“No thanks to you and your boundless fascination for every dark thing creeping through the place,” I said icily. “And it is not Gal, it has never been Gal, it’s Galadriel”—the name wasn’t my idea, don’t look at me—“and if that’s too many syllables for you to manage all in one go, El will do.”

His head had jerked up and he was blinking at me in a sort of open-mouthed way. “Oh. Uh. I—I’m sorry?” he said, voice rising on the words, as if he didn’t understand what was going on.

“No, no,” I said. “I’m sorry. Clearly I’m not performing my role up to standard.” I threw a melodramatic hand up against my forehead. “Orion, I was so terrified,” I gasped, and flung myself onto him. He tottered a bit: we were the same height. “Thank goodness you were here to save me, I could never have managed a soul-eater all on my own,” and I hiccuped a pathetically fake sob against his chest.

Would you believe, he actually tried to put his arm round me and give my shoulder a pat, that’s how automatic it was for him. I jammed my elbow into his stomach to shove him off. He made a noise like a whoofing dog and staggered back to gawk at me. “I don’t need your help, you insufferable lurker,” I said. “Keep away from me or you’ll be sorry.” I shoved him back one more step and slammed the door shut between us, clearing the end of that beaky nose by bare centimeters. I had the brief satisfaction of seeing a look