BOOK 1 // TEN: The Result

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The room was hot.

Sweat pooled on the back of my neck, threatening to trickle down into the collar of my shirt. The heating vents had not taken into account the dozens of people squashed into the main hall, breathing the same heavy, nervous air. I longed for a drink to wet my mouth, but our bags had already been stored away in lockers, and the only item left on my possession was my ID card. Being without that, after all, was a criminal offence.

"Are they giving them out?"

Beside me, Orla was on tiptoes, craning her neck to see over the queue in front of us. In any other crowd, her six-foot stature put her above most heads, but she didn't get the same luxury at school.

"I can't see anything," she said eventually, bringing herself back down to normal height. "It's too packed in here."

She wasn't wrong. Save for the auditorium, the main hall was one of the biggest rooms in the academy, but today it certainly didn't feel like it. The architecture was less than fifty years old, but it had been designed to look deceivingly ancient: a large wooden stage loomed above us at the front of the room, framed by red velvet curtains with a convincing fade. Below the stage, dozens of tables had been set up, each one decorated by a splay of manila envelopes.

Only etiquette kept us where we were standing. Left to our own devices, all of us would run right over and snatch up the one with our name on it.

"Would it kill them to turn a fan on?" Verity was shifting from one foot to the other, nervous energy slipping into irritation. "The temperature in here is ridiculous."

"You're telling me." I ran my tongue over my dry lips, still wishing for a glass of water. "I just want to get this over with."

The UNL result collection was always a big deal – though at KHA, that was hardly surprising. The school always turned it into a bigger event than necessary, like they were asking for drama. Every year, at least half a dozen students would end up in hysterics, refusing to move from crumpled heaps as they clutched rejection letters. Only final years were allowed inside the hall, but news always travelled school-wide anyway. In Nova's year, a girl had worked herself into such a frenzy that she'd had a full-blown panic attack, ending up being carted away from school on a stretcher.

I realised I was twisting Nova's ring around my finger, with such force it was digging a red groove into my skin. I had to make myself stop. We were all nervous, but showing it felt like a kind of weakness.

At KHA, after all, confidence was key. Without it, you were already lagging behind everybody else – no matter how impressive your DNA.

My words were partly true: I did want this over with. I wanted nothing more than to open the letter to see Congratulations, hug everybody in the vicinity, and dash home to spill the news to my parents. Mum would probably get all tearful, and Dad would insist we went out for dinner to celebrate. It would be the good news we'd waited two years for. Then, finally, I might be able to think about the upcoming year whilst still being able to breathe.

But whatever confidence I was projecting on the outside was sapping everything from my head. Sure, I could tell myself it was all going to work out – but I was also the one who'd been there in the interview room, and therefore the hardest to convince. Looming before me was the very real possibility of my envelope being the thinnest on the pile.

No, after all, didn't require much paper.

I almost had to be thankful for the distraction of the previous week. The events at BioPlus HQ had given my mind more than enough to be getting on with, and it was much easier not to think about UNL admissions when the name Eden Clarke was bouncing around inside my skull.

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