Elementals

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Chapter Six

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© 2010 Ohne Sie

Rixana scowled, leaning against the railing of the balcony that overlooked the castle garden. Most of her classmates were there, chatting casually. It was disgusting. She let go of the railing, turning away. She needed to find something to do—something fun.

She wondered where Clather and Honel were. The two fire elementals were the only ones not gathered in the garden. She didn't care for them any more than she did for the others, but Clather was the one she wanted to see. She needed to leave Tilara alone, for the time being. Too many people cared about her, for some reason. But Clather was a good substitute.

For Rixana, the greatest joy in life came at others' expense. She reveled in other people's misfortune and took pleasure in causing discomfort. The greater the distress, the greater the joy, and Tilara and Clather were very easy to manipulate.

She set off down the hall, back toward her class's dorm rooms. The fire elementals might still be sleeping. If that were the case, she would just have to wake them up.

She practically skipped down the hall, her mind whirring with ideas of how to anger Clather. It was just so easy. He was a powder keg waiting to explode, and she would be the spark that set him off.

She knocked on the door, hiding her smile as she did so. She couldn't let him know that she was toying with him. None of them could know.

She waited, but there was no answer at the door. She frowned. Where could they be? They hadn't been in the kitchen. They obviously weren't in the garden with the others. Where else could they have gone? It was unlikely that they were together. Neither boy seemed to like the other much, although it was hard to tell what Honel was thinking.

Rixana leaned her back against the wall, trying to think. The kitchen. The garden. Their room. Where else in the castle would Clather want to be? The library? She frowned, shaking her head. Definitely not. While he could read, Clather did not strike Rixana as a person particularly fond of books.

She took her map out of her pocket and studied it. Of course! The courtyard, she thought. It was where the class had had combat lessons the previous day. Clather would be there. She ran down stairs and out through the door leading to the courtyard.

To her surprise, Clather was not alone. He was with two younger children, a boy and a girl, dressed in the fire elemental uniforms. The younger children faced each other, each holding a staff. Clather stood between them, a few feet away. "Ioso, shift your foot. You're off balance. If Enny strikes you, you're going to fall over." He waited for the boy to obey and turned to the girl. "Okay. Go."

She hesitated a second before clumsily waving the staff toward Ioso. Still, the boy was unable to defend himself in time, and the edge of Enny's staff met his shoulder. "Ow!" he cried, dropping his own staff and rubbing his shoulder.

"You need to be faster," Clather said, rolling his eyes. "You said you wanted to be able to fight, didn't you?"

"Yes, but…" Ioso winced. "She was too fast."

"She wasn't fast enough," Clather said. He looked at the girl. "Your attack was sloppy." He turned aback to Ioso. "Pick it back up. You attack this time. Enny can defend."

Enny seemed uneasy about her new role. She mimicked Ioso's earlier stance, shifting her feet as Clather directed and eyeing Ioso warily.

"Go," Clather said.

Ioso sprang forward, charging toward Enny, who froze in fear. Fortunately, Clather saw this and managed to grab the end of Ioso's staff before he struck the girl on the head.

"You have to be prepared," Clather told the girl.

She stared at him for a moment before dropping her staff and running off. Rixana smiled. She was probably running off to cry somewhere.

"I-I'm sorry," Ioso said. "Is she going to be okay?"

Clather shrugged. "Lesson's over, I guess. It's almost time for breakfast anyway."

"Will you…will you do this again? Tomorrow, maybe?"

"Maybe. If you can find another partner. I'm not sure Enny's coming back anytime soon."

Ioso nodded. "Um…thank you," he said. "I'll just…I'll go now." He ran off in the direction Enny had. Rixana wondered if he was going to try to console her.

Clather still hadn't noticed Rixana when she walked toward him. "So, what, are you a teacher now?" she asked.

He glanced up at her while picking up the staves Ioso and Enny had dropped. "They asked me for help," he said, narrowing his eyes. "What are you doing here?"

Rixana shrugged. "I was just bored. I was going to check on my roommate, but she's occupied with the rest of our classmates…except Honel." She kicked a stray pebble that rested in the grass. "Where is he, anyway?"

Clather shrugged. "How would I know? I don't keep tabs on him. But why don't you go find out and leave me alone?"

"Why are you being so hostile?" Rixana asked with a pout. "I just wanted someone to talk to. I'm so lonely."

"Yeah? I wonder why that is."

Rixana felt a flare of anger, but she ignored it. Her goal was to make him angry. She would have to do a better job. "So your last name is Doleurm, right?"

Clather hesitated, eyeing her suspiciously. "Yes," he said finally.

"Huh. Are you related to the famous general? Meynor Doleurm?"

"He was my grandfather," Clather said. His jaw clenched. Rixana hid a smirk. She knew exactly what to say now.

"Oh, really? That's exciting. So then…your father is General Ropther Doleurn."

"Yes."

"Wow, so that's why you were training to be a soldier, right? Because of your famous father and grandfather? That's impressive."

"Look, I need to take these back to Mr. Ruhan, so…"

"It must be a pretty big disappointment to your family that you're here and not at your soldier training anymore, huh? I mean, not only are you not following in your father's footsteps, but you're an elemental. You're pretty much a disgrace."

Clather stared at her in shock. "What?"

"I mean, my parents hated me for being an elemental, but at least they didn't expect me to be something else. Your family was sure you'd be a great war leader like your father and grandfather. So, I mean, knowing that you're not must be a disappointment."

"You know nothing about my family," Clather said. He gripped the staves more tightly, walking away. "Get the hell away from me."

Rixana watched him leave before skipping through the door she used to enter the courtyard. It was almost breakfast time, and exploiting people's weaknesses always made her a bit hungry.

Hardly anyone was in the dining room when Rixana arrived. Nobody from her class was there, anyway. Almost all of the younger children were seated at their table, talking to each other. Rixana recognized Enny and Ioso, the two children Clather had been teaching, as well as two others from her air magic class the day before. Both were boys. Rixana frowned, trying to remember their names. Ashon and… She stared at the second boy. What was his name?

He must have felt her watching him, because he turned around and looked back at her for a second, before turning quickly away as she glared at him. Unaly! She smiled, congratulating herself for remembering the name and for frightening him. She smirked. Just because his name had been so hard to remember, he would be her next target. Once she had made her classmates' lives miserable, she would move on to him.

She hummed to herself as she grabbed a plate, piling it with food. As she walked to her table, she noticed Clather walk in.

She smiled to herself as he froze in the doorway, seeing her. Then he turned away, walking toward the food and filling up his own plate before sitting at the table across from her, as far away as possible.

Rixana watched him through her peripheral vision as they ate quietly. She noted with amusement that he was still angry. She had struck a nerve. She was almost disappointed when her other classmates walked in together. She had enjoyed Clather's discomfort. Now, though, he relaxed a bit, no longer left alone with her.

Rodem and Nalen sat on either side of Clather, with Nululesa and Tilara next to them, respectively. Orashi frowned a bit before sitting in the empty seat between Nululesa and Rixana. Rixana smiled innocently at her. Orashi narrowed her eyes suspiciously, scooting her chair as close to Nululesa as possible.

Rixana studied the girl next to her, wondering what the best way to hurt her was. Orashi, while not as sickeningly sweet and nice as Nululesa, or as impossibly cool and calm as Honel, seemed to be much more secure than the others.

She was from Choderor, of course. Then why is she here? Rixana wondered. Maybe that was the key. If she could just find out why Orashi came to Ceelath…

Someone sat down in the chair on the other side of her. Rixana looked up. Honel was sitting there now. She wondered again where he had been that morning.

Her eyes darted across the table to Clather, who was trying his best to avoid eye contact with her, focusing instead on the conversation going on around him. The others were talking in hushed whispers. Rixana was having a difficult time hearing what was being discussed, but from what she could hear, it had something to do with the war. She strained to hear what they were saying, while also trying to appear uninterested.

"I heard that the king wants to cut A Class's training short and send them to battle at the end of the year," Nalen whispered.

"What? That's crazy," Orashi said. "How did you hear that?"

Nalen frowned. "I'm an air elemental. Voices carry on the wind. I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but…"

"It's just a rumor," Rodem said firmly. "The king wouldn't do that."

"How do you know?" Clather asked. It was the first time he had spoken since the conversation started. "He has to win the war, and he has to be pretty desperate."

"He just wouldn't do that," Rodem insisted. "It would be stupid. They haven't had enough training…they would never survive."

"Yeah, but if Styenrad hasn't finished training their elemental soldiers yet, and Ceelath has sends some, even ones who aren't fully trained, then…wouldn't we still win a few battles?" Clather asked.

"No, because they're undisciplined and still don't have self-control," Orashi said. "It takes years to master."

"I doubt that," Clather said. "They've survived this long without any training, haven't they?"

"Didn't you hear what the instructors were saying before? Many elementals burn themselves out before they reach adulthood. Very few make it beyond their twentieth birthdays without proper training." Nululesa frowned.

"Lesa's right," Orashi said. "We're all at a serious disadvantage because of our lack of training."

"What do you mean, 'we?'" Clather asked. "You're from Choderor, aren't you? Haven't you had training?"

"Some," Orashi said. Something flickered in her eyes. Rixana cocked her head. What was it? Anger? "But my family moved here when I was eight. I'm not nearly as experienced as I should be."

Clather rolled his eyes. "So what you're saying is that this is hopeless. If the A Class isn't sent out at the end of the year, we'll lose, but if they are…we still lose?"

"No," Rodem said, shaking his head. "We're not going to lose, and the king is not sending A Class out at the end of the year.

Rixana pushed the eggs around on her plate, much more interested in the gossip than in her food, but the conversation seemed to have stopped. It was disappointing. She needed to say something to make them start arguing, but what?

Her eyes rested on Tilara, who shifted uneasily in her seat. While Rixana had decided to leave her alone for now, everything about her roommate made her angry. She turned her gaze back to Clather, who was actively avoiding her now. Darn. I'll have to wait until he's alone again.

She sighed and decided to eat her food, instead. Breakfast passed otherwise uneventfully, and then it was time for meditation to start.

Rixana hated meditating. It made her feel strange—weaker, somehow. She sat down on the floor, letting her mind relax, even though she didn't want to. A couple of times, she felt a nudge and opened her eyes to see one of the instructors frowning at her. Apparently, she had fallen asleep. Still, she left the meditation feeling happier, which also left her feeling conflicted. She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the happy feelings as she walked into the combat class. If anything, this class would allow her to hurt someone.

To her glee, Rixana was paired with Tilara during this session. Rixana gripped the staff she had been given tightly, as Tilara subconsciously shrank away. Rixana couldn't help but grin, which caused the other girl to bite her lip nervously.

Tilara, who was reluctant to attack, was supposed to be offensive, while Rixana, who was eager to attack, was supposed to be defensive. Somehow, though, Rixana ended up attacking Tilara, while Tilara backed up, until she eventually bumped into Clather and Nalen.

"Watch where you're going," Clather growled. Nalen glared at him and then looked at Tilara.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

Tilara nodded, but Rixana saw her glance in her direction. Nalen noticed it too, and turned toward her.

"Aren't you supposed to be blocking?" Nalen asked Rixana.

She shrugged. "I didn't want to."

Tilara mumbled something to Nalen, who sighed. "Fine." He glared at Rixana and turned back to Clather.

Tilara held her staff in front of her, facing Rixana. "I…I want to try it. Okay?"

"Fine. Sure, whatever." Rixana shrugged and held her staff in a defensive position. The idea of someone as weak as Tilara attempting to hit her was laughable. Rixana smirked as Tilara closed her eyes. She's not even going to do it.

Then, Tilara charged toward her. Rixana was so surprised, she forgot to defend herself. The staff hit her in the stomach and she fell backwards.

"I'm so sorry! Here, let me help you." Tilara's voice was barely audible over the giggling of the other students. Even the instructors couldn't hide their smirks.

"Get away from me!" Rixana shouted. A sudden gust of wind whirled toward Tilara, but it was stopped suddenly as Nalen ran toward her.

"Control yourself!" Nalen said, glaring at Rixana. "You could seriously hurt someone."

"Okay, I think that's enough practice for today," Naro said as Issaya approached her students. Tilara ran toward Orashi and Nululesa, who put an arm around her. Nalen was still standing in front of Rixana. What did he want? His stare was creepy.

"Rixana, are you okay?" Issaya asked.

"I'm fine," she said, grateful to avoid looking at Nalen. "I just fell. It's not a big deal."

The instructor frowned. "That wasn't what I meant." Rixana said nothing in response. Issaya sighed. "We need to have a talk later." She turned toward the rest of her class. "You'd better go to your next lesson."

Rixana waited until Nalen left and then followed a good distance behind him. Her next class was with him, but something about the boy made her nervous. She reminded herself again that she needed to leave Tilara alone for now. She was calling too much attention to herself.

This lesson went about as badly as her previous air magic lesson had. She quickly grew frustrated. Somehow, she was expected to be able to snuff out a candle across the room without doing the same to one right in front of her. It was impossible.

And yet, other students could do it easily. Nalen, especially, made it seem simple. She got so angry and frustrated, at one point, that she created a breeze that snuffed every lantern in the room, plunging the classroom into darkness.

She needed to take her frustrations out on somebody, and lunch time seemed like the perfect chance to do it. But every time she tried to speak, someone would speak over her.

"So Orashi, why did you—" she started, but then Rodem interrupted.

"You know, I went to Choderor a few times when I was younger."

"Really?" Orashi asked. "What did you think?"

"I was interested in the way elementals were treated there. It scared me, actually, because it was before my family really knew what I could do. I thought they would send me away."

When that conversation died, Rixana tried again. "Is there—"

"Tilara, you were amazing in water magic class earlier," Nululesa said.

"Very impressive," Rodem agreed.

Tilara blushed. "I'm not nearly as good as either of you…"

"No, I can't do much with offensive magic," Rodem said.

The interruptions continued throughout lunch, leaving Rixana even more frustrated. And the other classes were just as bad. At the end of the day, Rixana was looking forward to going to her room and being able to say what she wanted to Tilara, but she had forgotten that Issaya wanted to speak with her.

"Rixana, may I have a word?" her teacher asked.

Rixana sighed. "Sure, why not?" She followed the woman into an unoccupied classroom, where she sat down on at a desk.

"Is there a problem I can help you with?"

"No," Rixana said.

"I've been hearing some stories from your classmates…" Issaya sighed. "We talked about this yesterday, didn't we?"

"Yes. I said that I would be nicer to Tilara."

"Have you been?"

"Yes. I haven't made fun of her for her nightmares. By the way, her screaming is really annoying. I can't get any sleep at night."

"Oh, she had nightmares last night?"

Rixana frowned. "Actually, not as many. But still…"

"And what about Clather?"

"What about him?"

"What have you been saying to him?"

"Nothing bad!" Rixana shook her head. "I only asked him about his family."

"Are you sure that's all you said?"

"Of course. Why? What did he say?"

Issaya sighed. "Rixana, I'm going to be honest with you. This bullying has to stop. I know I'm not there all the time to see what you children are doing, but all of your classmates have told me what's been going on."

"How do you know they're not lying?"

"Why would they lie? Rixana, this is for your good as well as theirs. You do not want to alienate the people you will later be fighting beside. That won't end well for you. You need to learn to get along with people."

The girl was silent. Hopefully Issaya would take the silence as agreement and leave her alone. Rixana had no intention of being nicer. If anything, she would pretend to be nice for a while, until the perfect moment to strike presented itself.

Issaya sighed again. "If it continues, we'll have to send you home. I don't want to do that, because you need this school, but…"

"Is that all?" Rixana interrupted her.

"Yes, Rixana. That's it. Please consider what I've said."

"Of course. Thank you." Rixana rushed past the woman and down the hallway to the staircase.

She could never be nice. Nice people were weak. And Rixana would never be weak again.