THE ORACLE closed all four of its eyes. It didn’t have a mouth, but it didn’t need one.

You have much power, it said in Connor’s mind. And for one so young, you envision an ambitious future for yourself. You have great plans.

Connor knew he was supposed to keep his mind blank and open for the Pairing, but he couldn’t help the smug turn of his thoughts. Of course he had great plans—his father was Ivander Roth, greatest fire mage in the eleven kingdoms and a First Mage of the King’s Council, the second youngest to ever be granted the honor.

Connor planned to follow in his father’s footsteps: He’d get himself Paired with Elisa, just as his father had been Paired with his mother, and together he and Elisa would best his parents’ display at the Senior Trial. Then he’d earn a seat on the King’s Council by the time he turned thirty and beat his father’s record.

Great plans, indeed, the Oracle said, sounding amused. A pity that minds inclined toward greatness seldom comprehend simple truths.

“Excuse me?” Connor said. He heard a scandalized gasp from one of the teachers. Technically, it wasn’t forbidden to speak aloud to the Oracle. Technically.

Your journey will be most interesting. Greatness, yes. I see greatness. But shall you inherit greatness, Connor Roth, son of Ivander Roth of the House of Redding—or shall we make you great on your own?

“We could find out if you Paired me, already,” Connor said, trying to hold on to his temper.

Very well. For Senior Trial, you are Paired with… Landyn Glendower. May your magic burn bright.

The Oracle opened its multicolored eyes: red, blue, green, and white, one for each element. The red eye and blue eye blazed with light, and Connor felt a brief, stinging pain on his right hand.

The Pairing Sigil. He and Landyn Glendower were bonded. Stuck together until the Senior Trial on the Spring Equinox. This was going to be the worst three months of his life.

“Well?” Headmaster Relvin prompted. “Who are you Paired with, my boy?”

His stomach dropping, Connor turned his head to the assembled crowd. Elisa beamed up at him from the bottom of the staircase, looking beautiful in white robes with hand-sewn diamond accents. She’d told him she wanted to be at her best today when so many eyes would be upon her. Their friend Dugan stood next to her in plain white robes, a scowl on his beefy face as he waited for Connor’s announcement.

Connor swallowed and caught the eye of a tall, thin boy in the back of the crowd, wearing a pinched expression. Landyn. He’d probably felt the sigil burning into his palm at the exact same moment Connor had.

Connor couldn’t seem to find the words as all his brilliant plans came crashing down around him. How was he supposed to succeed with Landyn for a partner? How was he supposed to merge his magic with a water mage?

“Speak up, lad, don’t be shy,” Headmaster Relvin prodded. The crowd began murmuring, and the pretty smile slipped from Elisa’s face. Dugan looked interested; he could probably smell the blood in the water.

“Glendower,” Connor croaked through what felt like a fire-scorched throat. “I’ve been Paired with Landyn Glendower.”

The teachers erupted in surprised exclamations as a wave of shocked whispers rippled through the crowd. Two boys or two girls being Paired together wasn’t unheard of, but two mages with opposing elements had never been Paired. Ever.

The Oracle sat on the dais with its eyes closed once again, somehow managing to convey a serene expression with its smooth, scaled face, which was a feat without a mouth or eyebrows.

“What!” Elisa gasped, clutching Dugan’s arm so hard that Connor saw him wince.

“Heavens!” Headmaster Relvin said, his face gone pale and blotchy with shock.

Greatness, the Oracle murmured, its words warm and curling like smoke.

Only Connor heard it.