© 2010 Ohne Sie
Nululesa Sienril stared blankly at the piece of parchment being held in front of her by a strange man. He was dressed in the colors of the kingdom of Ceelath: Brown and blue. She glanced at her mother, who nodded slowly, before carefully taking the letter from the man.
She read it carefully—twice, in fact—but she still could not comprehend what the letter said. The words themselves made perfect sense to her, but the meaning behind them did not. She frowned, handing the letter to her mother.
It took almost as long for her mother to read the letter, but she seemed to understand it perfectly. "Is this true? Is the war going that badly?"
The man's expression betrayed nothing. "I have nothing to say that the message itself does not."
"It must be, if the king is expecting children, of all people, to battle! Is it true, then, that Styenrad is training elemental warriors?"
"That, I can tell you, is just a rumor, but His Majesty is taking the necessary precautions."
"But how did he know about me?" Nululesa's small voice was little more than a whisper, but both adults turned toward the eleven-year-old.
"Nobody knew about Nululesa's powers," her mother explained.
"As I said before, I know nothing more than what is written on that letter. If you will kindly excuse me, I have more messages to deliver."
"By all means, don't let me stop you," Nia Sienril said, turning to her daughter as the man mounted his horse to leave. "Are you alright?" she asked her Nululesa, who was holding the parchment again, reading it for the fifth time.
"I don't understand," the girl mumbled. "I thought we hid it well."She handed the parchment back to her mother. "I haven't used magic in years, not since..."
"I know, Lesa." Nia gently brushed her daughter's hair in an effort to soothe her, but her own hand was trembling.
"And I'm only eleven! Oram didn't go to the training school until he was thirteen! Why do I have to go to this...this..." She glanced at the letter, which she had taken from her mother, again. "Elemental Academy now?" She looked at her mother. Her voice softened as she continued, "And leave you behind? All alone?"
Nia shook her head. "I won't be alone. I have the cows, after all, and there are neighbors. And of course, you'll write to me, won't you?"
Lesa smiled slightly. "Of course. Even more than Papa does." She frowned again. "I guess he was right, though."
"Right about what?"
"Styenrad and the elemental warriors. They must be building an army of elementals, or we'd never resort to this." She paused. "I guess this means that people are going to have to look at us differently, now." That thought gave her a small bit of hope. "We won't be able to hide it, and if we can save the kingdom..."
Nia hugged her daughter. "Don't worry about what people will think. This may be for the best, anyway. You're going somewhere where everyone else will have the same...talents...that you have. There will be no one there who is afraid of you for what you can do." She paused, thinking. "But...maybe you should still keep some of your abilities a secret."
"You mean what I did when the raiders came?"
Her mother nodded. "I don't know how people might react. I don't want anything to happen to you, but I've never heard of anyone being able to do what you did."
Lesa nodded. When the raiders had come three years earlier, she had done something incredible. While her mother had gotten over the fear she had felt when she realized what had happened, Lesa's brother Oram, who was now at training school to become a soldier like his father, had never fully gotten over his fear of her. Her father had never found out about it, although he was aware that she possessed elemental abilities.
Thinking of her father pained her. While Lesa loved her father, and she was sure her father loved her, as well, he also held the majority opinion in Ceelath, that elementals were dangerous and untrustworthy. He loved her, yes, but he was as afraid of her as her brother, Oram was. "At least you are a healer," he had said, years earlier, when he discovered her mending a cut one of the cows had received after grazing too close to the fence. "At least you have the possibility of a useful, normal life."
Useful. Normal. Lesa winced. His words had stung, and she was not sure if he understood how much it hurt. She did not want to be different, but she was born with powers that made her family uncomfortable. She had tried to ignore her abilities, refusing to use her power, but after her father returned to battle five years earlier, her mother had asked her to continue practicing. "You must practice, Lesa. Your powers will come in handy one day. We may need to keep it a secret from your father and brother, though, for now." So she had. Until that day, three years ago...
Lesa looked up with a start, realizing that her mother had said something. "Huh?"
"We should pack your things." Nia pointed to the letter in Lesa's hand. "Doesn't it say that someone will come for you tomorrow morning?"
Lesa looked down at the letter, alarmed. Somehow, she had missed that. "But...that's too soon!"
"It will always be too soon," Nia said gently, hugging her daughter to her side as they walked inside the cottage. "This will be good for you. Just wait. You'll meet some children your own age and make friends. And watch, the war will be over sooner than you think, and they won't end up needing you at all. You'll get the training you need and be able to come back."
Lesa forced a smile, looking at her mother, before turning her head to survey her tiny room. "There really isn't much to take," she mumbled. "I wonder how much I'm allowed to bring."
Her mother was already searching through Lesa's clothing chest, sorting through the items. She held up a pale blue dress with white trim and darker blue embroidery. Lesa wrinkled her nose. "Oh, don't give me that reaction, Lesa. I have no doubt that you'll need a nice dress."
"I never wear it," Lesa said, sighing. "It probably doesn't fit."
"Well, try it on, and if it doesn't, I'll have to alter it tonight." She tossed the dress at Lesa. Grumbling, Lesa obeyed as her mother pulled a pair of dress slippers out of the chest. "Do these still fit?" she asked, holding them up.
Lesa had pulled the dress on and was looking down on it. "It still fits," she marveled, before looking at the shoes her mother held. She stretched a leg out in front of her. Her mother sighed, slipping the shoe on Lesa's foot. The girl put her foot down, wiggling her toes and hopping on that foot. "They fit, too." She kicked the shoe off and attempted to take the dress off, but her mother stopped her.
"Hold on," she said, standing up. Lesa paused. "Turn around, so I can see." Lesa obeyed, spinning around slowly. "I'll need to let it out a little, it seems. It's a bit short."
Lesa looked down and saw what her mother had meant. The dress, which was meant to come down to the bottom of her ankles, was about three inches too short. "Well, I haven't worn it in a very long time," she said.
Her mother sighed. "Take it off. At least your feet haven't grown," she said, sliding the slippers into the bag she had started packing.
Lesa looked around. Her mother continued packing, as Lesa walked over to her bed. She picked up a cloth doll sitting beside the pillow. Her mother had made the doll for her when she was four years old, and it was supposed to look like her. The doll had yellow hair, made of yarn, and blue embroidered eyes. She hugged the doll close to her, touching the soft fabric of the doll's pink dress. She lay on her bed, looking at the ceiling.
"I think that's everything," Nia said, and Lesa turned her head to look at her. Nia looked down at her daughter, seeing the doll. "Are you bringing her with you? I haven't seen you play with her in a few years."
Lesa looked at the doll, touching the doll's hair. Then she sat up. "No," she said quietly, before holding the doll out to her mother. "I want to leave her here with you." Noting the confused look on her mother's face, Lesa added, "To remind you of me, so you aren't alone."
Silently, Nia took the doll from her daughter. She looked at Lesa, tears welling in her eyes. She sat down beside her daughter on the bed and hugged her, as mother and daughter began to cry.
Lesa climbed in the cart parked outside her cottage the next morning, settling herself on one of the hard wooden seats, before looking back at her mother, who stood, hugging the doll and looking back at her daughter. She had barely gotten settled when the cart began to move, the driver clearly in a rush. She waved at her mother until the woman was finally lost to her sight. Sighing, Lesa closed her eyes, alone with her thoughts.
By the look of things, there was room for one other person in the cart. It was small, but there were two seats. Nervously, Lesa wondered who would be riding with her. She hoped that it was a girl her age. Would they be a water elemental, like her, with the ability to heal and summon rain? Or maybe fire, or air? It was unlikely that it would be an earth elemental. Not only were they extremely rare, with most of those born dying remarkably early in life, but most were born in the kingdom of Choderor, not Ceelath. She occupied her mind with thoughts of who the other person might be, barely noticing when the cart stopped. She opened her eyes, peering out curiously.
A girl around Lesa's age, with black hair kept in a bun, walked toward the cart, keeping her eyes down. There were two adults standing behind her, standing motionless and saying nothing as she sat down on the second seat. She barely glanced at Lesa as she sat, settling her bag in front of her and clasping her hands in her lap. The couple turned as she sat, walking back toward their house, which Lesa found herself gawking at. Were these people the only ones living there? The house was enormous, the kind of thing she had only heard about from her father, who had traveled all over the kingdom and seen all sorts of amazing and beautiful castles. This house was not a castle, as he had described, but it still seemed to Lesa that several families could live there quite comfortably. As the cart pulled away, Lesa diverted her attention to the girl across from her.
"Um...hello," Lesa said quietly, unsure of what to say to the girl, who had not looked at her since climbing into the cart.
The girl looked up at Lesa, her head still bowed.
Lesa took this as a sign to continue. "I'm Lesa...Nululesa Sienril. Um..." She paused. It had been a long time since she had spoken to someone her own age, and never anybody like this, who said nothing in return. She had no idea what to say. "What's your name?" she asked, finally.
"Orashi Otua," the girl said, leaning back and looking Lesa in the eye.
Lesa nodded, averting her gaze. When she looked back, the girl was still watching you. "So...you're going to the academy, too?"
The girl smiled slightly, probably thinking Lesa stupid for asking such an obvious question. "Yes," she said. "I'm an earth elemental."
Lesa smiled, excited. "Wow! That's amazing! I mean...I've heard that there aren't many of you..."
"No, there aren't," Orashi agreed. "Most of us die by the age of ten. Fortunately, I was born and raised in Choderor, until three years ago, so I was able to control my powers and avoid the fate of the others. That's why they die, usually. They can't handle the element. Their power is too strong, and they lose control and die."
"So in Choderor, they practice elementalism?" Lesa asked, thrilled to have the girl talking.
"Usually. I had a great teacher."
"Then...why did you move here? If you had a great teacher and were learning to control your power, why would your family move here?"
Orashi frowned, a flash of anger spreading across her face, before she shrugged it off. "I'd rather not discuss that," she said, and went back to staring at her hands.
Lesa sighed. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's none of my business."
"That's right. It's not," Orashi said, but she was looking at Lesa again, studying her. "Let me guess. You're a water elemental, right?"
"Yes. How did you know?"
Orashi grinned. "I can just tell. You'll see later, it's pretty easy to pick up on who belongs to which element after you're around them for a while."
Lesa frowned. "Do you think there will be a lot of people there?"
"What? At the academy?" Orashi asked. She shrugged. "Probably. I mean, there are probably a lot of people in this kingdom who have elemental powers and aren't telling anyone."
"Did it seem...strange to you, that the king knew we had these powers?" Lesa spoke before thinking, and immediately regretted it, when Orashi frowned at her, confused.
"No. It was common knowledge in Choderor that I was an earth elemental. I was the daughter of a duke, so..."
"So...you're a noble?" Lesa stared at her, astonished. "I didn't realize...I'm sorry, I..."
Orashi shook her head. "Not anymore, I'm not. That's something I don't want to talk about, though." She looked at Lesa again. "I'm just an eleven-year-old girl, an earth elemental. That's all."
Lesa nodded. Her eyes widened as they approached a huge building, which could only be what her father described as a castle.
"That's Ceelath Palace," Orashi said as Lesa leaned over the side of the cart, staring. "It's really pretty, especially inside."
Lesa whirled around to face her. "You've been inside?" she asked, staring at her.
"Yes," Orashi said.
"Was it...overwhelming? Incredible?"
"Probably, but I was young and didn't fully understand where I was. I'm sure I'd be much more impressed now, but I was only three, and I was actually pretty bored."
Lesa looked back at the castle. "So this is where the king lives..."
"Yes," Orashi said, but Lesa was not listening. She was taking in everything, from the stone walls and towers, to the impeccable gardens. When they finally passed the castle, after what seemed like hours, she turned back to Orashi.
"It's hard to believe something like this exists."
"It's very ornamental," Orashi said, clearly not as impressed.
But now they approached another building, slightly smaller in size, but equally as impressive, with stained glass windows, high towers, and many carts unloading people and bags. The cart slowed to a stop, and Lesa looked up at the building, before glancing back at Orashi. "Is this...?"
Orashi was grinning. "Well, this isn't exactly what I was expecting," she said, grabbing her bag and jumping off of the cart. Lesa quickly followed, staring at the sign in front of them:
Ceelath Elemental Academy
She thought her heart had stopped. It was too much to take in at once, but Orashi was already halfway to the school's entrance. Lesa ran to catch up, deciding to wait to be overwhelmed until later.
Lesa followed the crowd into the building. It's like we're cattle being herded, she thought to herself, keeping close behind Orashi, desperate to maintain contact with the only person she knew at all. The group moved so slowly through the halls, which were not large enough to accommodate everyone at once, that she had plenty of time to look around her.
The walls and floors were made of stone, old and crumbling, obviously not well-maintained. There were countless cracks in the floor. Lesa found herself intentionally avoiding the cracks, fearing that the floor would cave, with so many people walking. Nobody else seemed to notice or mind. She was amazed at how many people were there. Her mother had told her that elemental magic was rare, but that could not possibly be true. There were about three times more people in the crowd than she had ever seen in her life. Most appeared to be children, her age or younger, but there were older teenagers and adults present, too. Lesa found herself reflecting on what she and Orashi had discussed earlier, about the high death rate among earth elementals. Her mother had once told her that powerful users of other elements, with no training and discipline, also had a high death rate early in life. That was why she had encouraged Lesa to practice, but refrain from using too much power.
She winced as she and Orashi entered a large, brightly lit room. She had not realized how dim the hallway was until now. Blinking a few times and allowing her eyes to adjust, she followed Orashi and a group of other people to stand near a wall in the room, while others also entered. The room was unnaturally quiet, which struck Lesa as odd, considering that there were probably hundreds of people present. Very few people spoke, and those who did, spoke in whispers. Lesa turned to Orashi.
"I didn't expect so many people to be here," she whispered.
"Me neither," Orashi said.
"Where did they get this building?" Lesa wondered, unaware that she was speaking. "I can't imagine they built it for this school. It's too old."
"They didn't," Orashi said, shaking her head. "It's an old castle. I'm not sure who lived here, but it hasn't been lived in for a long time." Her eyes shifted to watch the center of the room, where three men and a woman stood, each wearing a uniform in a different color and holding a board and a pen.
Lesa realized that no one else was entering the room and the doors had closed. All conversation stopped as people turned to look at the people in the center of the room.
"Choderi," Orashi whispered, smiling.
One of the men stepped forward. He wore a red tunic with orange pants underneath. "Welcome, elementals of Ceelath, to the Ceelath Elemental Academy. After a brief examination of your skills, those of you who are found to be suitable for training will be sorted into groups based on ability and age. Those whose skills are not found to be adequate for this school will be sent home."
A dull murmur swept the room. It was possible that they would not even keep her here? Lesa glanced at Orashi, who still stood, transfixed on the man speaking.
"The four of us will each examine a group of you, in order to speed this process. We ask you to please move to one side of the room, and your skills will be analyzed. If we have your full cooperation, this will be a speedy process."
Lesa glanced around. The lone woman of the group of four, wearing a uniform similar to that of the man, but with a light blue tunic and dark blue leggings, approached the group standing by the wall where she was. "Hello," she said, smiling warmly at the group, all of whom appeared as nervous as Lesa felt. "My name is Issaya Yuwa. I am a water elemental from Choderor." She walked toward a child standing several feet from Lesa, who appeared to be eight or nine years old. "What's your name?"
The child mumbled something Lesa could not hear. She saw Issaya reach forward, holding the boy's hand, and closing her eyes. Then she released his hand, smiling again at the boy. "Thank you," she said, and wrote something down on the board she held in front of her.
Lesa tried not to watch the woman as she repeated this process with several other people, instead trying to distract herself with other thoughts. Something about the water elemental's actions was making her nervous, but she was not sure why. Suddenly, she heard Issaya's voice next to her, where Orashi stood.
"What is your name?" Issaya asked.
"Orashi Otua," Orashi said quietly, looking down as if ashamed.
Issaya's eyes widened for an instant, clearly surprised, but her voice was gentle. "Ah, yes. Of course. May I?" She asked, holding out her hand.
Orashi obliged, reaching out her own hand. The woman took it, closing her eyes. Lesa gasped in surprise as a green glow emanated from Orashi's body. Had that happened with the others? Lesa had not noticed. But now, looking around, she saw that there was an orange glow coming from across the room, as well.
"Thank you," Issaya said, releasing Orashi's hand. Orashi nodded, her eyes remaining fixated on the ground and her cheeks flushing red. Lesa frowned, wondering what the cause was for Orashi's reaction.
But Issaya was facing her, now. "What is your name?"
"Nululesa Sienril." Lesa avoided eye contact with the other water elemental.
Lesa hesitated for an instant. But whatever the elementals were doing did not seem to hurt anyone, so she cautiously placed her hand in the older woman's.
She gasped again as her entire body suddenly felt like it was liquid. It lasted only a second, but as soon as Lesa's hand was released, she had to fight herself to remain standing. "Thank you," the woman said, and Lesa was unable to reply in any way. When she finally felt that she was her own solid self again, she noticed that Orashi was watching her.
"Are you okay?" Orashi asked. She appeared worried.
"I'm fine," Lesa whispered, looking around. Nobody else seemed to be watching. "Why?"
"I thought you were going to faint. Your face got all white." She placed a hand on Lesa's shoulder. "What happened?"
Lesa shook her head. "I just felt...strange."
"You looked strange," Orashi agreed. "There was this bright blue light around you."
"There was a green light around you," Lesa said. She looked around again. No one else appeared was surrounded by light. "I guess that's not a normal reaction?"
"It doesn't appear to be," Orashi said, shaking her head. "I don't know what it means, though." Now there was another blue light radiating from the wall to the left of them.
They stood in silence for a few minutes. Lesa anxiously watched the rest of the room, counting how many more lit up the way she and Orashi had. There were not many. Most of those lights were blue, like her own, but a few were orange or purple. She did not see any other people with green lights around them.
"That concludes our analysis," a voice boomed from the center of the room. Everyone turned to look at the place where the four uniformed elementals stood. A man wearing a purple tunic and white leggings was speaking. "If your name is called, please line up in front of the man in green, Sumochi Uniso." The man wearing a green tunic with brown pants nodded. "Ibany Idano." A teenaged girl standing against the left wall walked forward. "Peylor Rantila." A teenaged boy from the right wall followed.
Lesa glanced at Orashi, who was once again concentrating on the floor, as if she were somehow embarrassed to look at the elementals in the center of the room. She looked up as the man stopped calling names.
"The eight of you in this line will follow Mr. Uniso to your new living quarters." A low murmur started again.
"Eight? That's it?" Lesa whispered.
"Maybe they're each going to take a group."
"Still...that's only..." She paused. "Thirty-two people, right? There are so many more here..." She looked at the group that was now leaving. "They're all teenagers."
"They did say we would be separated by skill and age," Orashi said.
"The next group called will line up before Keshi Miwa, the man in purple." The man who had spoken first earlier, wearing red and orange, was speaking now. He gestured toward the man who had just called names, who nodded back at him.
Eight more names were called. All of these people, Lesa realized, were adults, although all appeared to be around the age of twenty. This group was also led away to their living quarters.
Now Issaya stepped forward. "Those who are called now may line up in front of Naro Ruhan, the man in red." Eight more names were called, each belonging to children a few years younger than Lesa. These children were also led away into the school.
Issaya paused, looking at the hundreds of people left. "If your name is not called in this group, there are drivers outside who will take you home." She held up her board. "Those whose names are called should line up in front of me."
Lesa looked at the floor, nervous. There was a good chance she was going to go home. She would be allowed to return to her mother, to the quiet village where she had grown up...
"Tilara Nyon." A girl around Lesa's age, with short blonde hair, stepped forward from the right. Her clothes appeared to be little more than rags, and she kept her eyes focused on the floor. "Honel Firepetal." A tall boy long, dark brown hair followed her, also coming from the right side of the room. He held his head high, confidently walking forward, in contrast to the shy girl before him. "Rixana Tataum." Lesa thought she heard this girl, who stood about ten feet away from Orashi, let out a short huff of anger, before following Honel. She stalked forward, her fists clenched, as she lined up behind him. "Nalen Sarafe." This boy, who had shaggy, light orange hair, walked forward from the left, keeping his head down as Tilara had, but his step had the slightest bounce in it, as if he were happy to be there. His clothes, like Tilara's, appeared to be old and worn. "Clather Doleurm." This boy was even taller than Honel. He appeared even angrier than Rixana. Unable to contain his anger, he growled. Even across the room, Lesa shuddered, hoping that she would not be forced to follow him. The boy had blonde hair, tied behind his head. Even though he appeared to be only a year or two older than her, the boy had already developed muscle, and was wearing a uniform Lesa recognized as being worn by boys training to be soldiers in Ceelath's military. "Orashi Otua." Lesa looked over at Orashi, who seemed overjoyed. She stepped forward confidently, unable to hide her smile, as she joined the rest of the group in front of Issaya. She glanced back at Lesa, smiling and nodding. "Rodem Estath." A boy with short brown hair, standing across the room, who had been looking at the ground, suddenly looked up, clearly surprised. He grinned and walked forward.
There was one name left, Lesa realized. Orashi was looking back at her hopefully. Lesa took a deep breath, unsure of whether or not she wanted the last name to be hers, when Issaya spoke again.
"Nululesa Sienril." Lesa froze for a second. Then, her feet moving without her brain registering it, she found herself walking forward, her eyes focused on Orashi, who was grinning at her.
"The rest of you will now be sent home and can continue with your daily lives. His Majesty, King Gadren, apologizes for the inconvenience to your normal schedules." She then turned to the group of children in front of her, smiling. "Congratulations. Follow me."