Chapter 1

Cilsa was a small village surrounded by a forest of tall trees. The bralia season was now nearing its end and outside villagers were busy decorating their houses and setting up for the big event to come. From inside his classroom a boy sat watching the scene through the window. The other students snickered and laughed at the writing on the board. 'What is a nature?' it read. It was the introductory lecture they had all heard almost ten years ago now. Their instructor, Master Kalter, laughed too but continued writing. This was his last day with these students before graduation.

"Everything in our world consists of life energy or natural energy. Living beings such as plants or animals contain life energy, while non-living things such as mountains and oceans contain natural energy. Our life energy emanates from Alora itself and resides within us, and when we die that energy is returned, beginning the cycle again. This is known as...?" He paused as he searched the room, "Reauen?"

"The Eternal Balance," the boy answered, still following the activity outside.

"That's right," Kalter said, drawing a six sided diagram on the board. "Every Aloran is born with an affinity for one of the six primary elements, called their nature. What are these six elements?" he asked.

The room erupted in laughter. "Master please, what's the real lesson?" a boy asked. "Yeah, this is weird, we're not kids!" a girl giggled.

Kalter smiled as he pushed up his glasses. "This is the real lesson," he said. "Always remember that it never hurts to go back to the basics. That's a fact of education and of life in general." There had been so many moments of life lessons like this that some of the students joked about writing a book of them someday. "Now back to the question at hand," he said. Reauen felt the same as the others but he answered anyway. "Light, Air, Water, Earth, Fire, and Darkness," he said, as a few looks of disdain fell on him. Master Kalter nodded and continued on.

The nostalgia of the lesson wasn't lost on Reauen. It reminded him of his first day of school five years ago.

His uncle Ivere was walking him to the school explaining how things would go. "Since you're new the masters will have to see if you're up to speed on the lessons," his uncle Ivere told him. He had met with them beforehand to tell them about Reauen's arrival.

"But what do I do about my nature?" Reauen asked. Ivere smiled and put a hand on his shoulder, "Don't worry Reauen it's not all about ability; you're not the first late bloomer in history y'know. If you can get by with what you know then everything should be fine," he said. Reauen nodded but was still nervous. He felt like his uncle was more excited about school than he was and he smiled a little.

Soon they came to a long wooden building with two doors in the middle and Reauen followed as his uncle opened them. Inside, the hallway stretched left and right. To the left Reauen saw a tall man waiting outside one of the four doors in the hallway. He had straight silver hair that stopped at his shoulders and wore a squared pair of glasses. The man introduced himself as they approached. "Hello, Reauen. My name is Kalter Rinnel, the school's elemental theory master," he said.

"Nice to meet you, Master Kalter," Reauen answered politely.

Ivere mussed Reauen's hair and said, "Remember, you don't have to be nervous, the masters are here to help you," Ivere said, "Now I need to head to the lumberyard so I'll see you at home ok?"

"Okay," Reauen said, nodding.

After he left Kalter gave Reauen a review lesson to see what he knew. In the middle of which another man walked into the room and glanced at Reauen coldly. He was bald with a trimmed black beard on his face and wore the same tunic as Master Kalter. "This the new one?" he asked flatly. Unphased by the man's tone Kalter answered, "Yes, this is Reauen. He'll be joining the other students soon. Reauen this is Master Husce, he-"

"All you need to know is I don't tolerate laziness. No excuses." Husce cut in. He walked back out the door without another word. Kalter saw Reauen's understandably puzzled expression and spoke up. "Don't worry about him," he said, "That's his default attitude if you can believe it. Also, 'He's the manifestation master' is what I meant to say." Reauen silently hoped he would never have to cross paths with that man any more than necessary. Kalter finished the review and walked Reauen to the room nextdoor. He knocked on the door and a woman's voice responded. "Come in," she said.

Inside, Reauen saw a woman sitting barefoot on a woven mat in the middle of the room, and a large rock hovering above her. . She was stoutly built like most earth natures and her violet hair sat over her shoulder in a large braid. She lowered the rock slowly and stood to greet them, and before Kalter could introduce her, she had already made her way to Reauen and hugged him. "Hello there, Reauen! I'm Annise Legran, the elemental control and defense master," she said, releasing him.

He was caught off guard by the sudden energetic hug and greeting after the total silence there had been seconds before. "N-Nice to meet you Master Annise," he stuttered. "Oh, I'm sorry if I startled you, I just love getting new students!" she said, clasping her hands excitedly. Reauen was nervous about how she would test him as he glanced at the massive stone behind her, since controlling and defending with your element required being able to manifest it in the first place.

"I'm not sure I can pass this test, Master Annise," he said, "I don't...have a nature."Annise was well known for her gentle demeanor; so much so that not only the students, but other villagers had affectionately nicknamed her Mama Annise. "Oh, Reauen, everyone's nature develops differently. For some people it takes years of training to manifest theirs properly, and for others it comes easily from birth. But you're only twelve, you're just getting started dear, don't say things like that."

The way she said it felt completely reassuring to him, despite having heard the sentiment from others. She led Reauen to the center of the room where a circle of woven mats like hers lay around the rock. Unlike Kalter's room, the floor here was made of large stone tiles. "Close your eyes Reauen," she said, her voice almost a whisper, "be as still as possible and breathe slowly."

Trying to manifest an element had been a lifelong struggle ofr him, but he never stopped studying the subject as he grew up. He always tried to memorize any book he could find about it, and had just read one of those books yesterday. It said:

'The first of the three states the body progresses through during manifestation is called Oan. Through meditation the body becomes aware of the natural energy surrounding it that one is most affined to.'

It was the first step and he couldn't even manage that much. All he felt as he sat with her was a tile moving slightly near the back of the room. He opened his eyes to look and saw Annise smiling at him. "That's good enough Reauen, you pass," she said.

"But...what did I do? I still couldn't sense anything." he said.

"You noticed me moving the floor didn't you? If you could feel something that small-from the back of the room no less-then you have a good general sense of oan already. And as I said, you're just getting started, so don't rush yourself okay?" Reauen was glad he passed but in the back of his mind he still wasn't sure if he deserved to. Part of him even wondered if they had been taking it easy on him. They said goodbye to Annise and left the school.

Kalter congratulated Reauen as they went on their way to meet the last master. Reauen thought about it as they walked down the path."How many masters are there Master Kalter?" he asked.

"There are four of us, but don't worry, this last part won't be a test so much as an examination," Kalter said. They reached a house down the road from the school and Kalter knocked on the door. "Edila, it's Kalter. You there?" he asked. Reauen had been looking up expecting to see someone at Kalter's height open the door. Instead, a girl about the same height as him appeared. She was fair skinned with pale blonde hair that hang over her shoulders and down her back. She blinked for a moment, her round eyes a bright green. "She looks like an angel from a storybook," Reauen thought.

Once they stepped inside the image was quickly lost however, as she yawned loudly, stretching her arms above her head before squinting and leaning in close, staring into his amber eyes. She circled him and tilted her head side to side as she looked at him and it made him think of a cat instead. Unsure what to do, he just stood quietly. She turned abruptly and wrote something on a piece of paper at the desk behind her and then sat in her chair. "Hey, I'm Edila," she said casually.

It was normal activity for her, but for Reauen it was the strangest encounter he'd ever experienced. The gap between her looks and personality had confused him immensely. "She's a master?" he thought, "She looks like a kid-she acts like a kid! How old is she? What did she write about me before she even asked a question? Is this a prank?!"The questions darted through his mind all at once. he could only look to Kalter, searching for a response.

Kalter laughed."Are you trying to freak out the new student?" he asked.

She looked blankly for a moment. "No?" she answered.

"That delay makes you no less suspicious you know," he said, palming his forehead.

"Is…this the examination?" Reauen managed.

"Nah, this is just a sort of a process I go through with people who interest me," she said.

"Interest you? I thought it was for school?" Reauen asked, still lost. He couldn't even make sense of her actions, much less her words.

Kalter decided to get a hold on the odd situation. "Let's try this again. Reauen this is Master Edila Romille, the elemental medicine master and the village's medic." She smiled at the introduction as though it had been announced before a large audience. After the usual questions about his height, weight, age and the like, she grabbed a black stone from her desk and held it up to him. "This is a beatan stone; it's a mineral that's sensitive to natural energy. Just channel your element into it and I can see what your nature is and how well you control it." Kalter spoke up and explained Reauen's situation before she handed it to him.

"Ah, I see," she paused for a moment, "Well, here's your first lesson! I want you to keep this stone, and practice channeling your element at home. It's worth keeping up the effort, and you might just surprise yourself. Heck, I couldn't manifest my light nature until I was thirteen, and now look at me three years later!" The last part only stirred the confusion and questions right back up in his mind. "You're sixteen?!" he blurted in disbelief.

Edila laughed proudly. "How old did you think I was, kid?" she asked.

"I don't know!" he exclaimed, "And what do you mean 'kid' you're only four years older than me! And who let you become a master that young anyway?!" She stood on her chair posing like the captain of a ship, "The answer to your questions is simply this: Talent!" Kalter couldn't help but laugh at the two going back and forth.

The next day Edila told Reauen what they had decided. He would be placed based on his knowledge and they would try to work with him on ability as school went on. Annise and Kalter had agreed, but Husce refused to teach him saying he didn't want Reauen 'slowing the other students down' or 'getting any special treatment.' That apparently upset Annise who went to 'talk' to him. After which Husce simply backed down and agreed.

Reauen shook his head and snapped out of his reminiscing.

For weeks now the other students had been talking about graduation non-stop, but he had the same conflict now as he did when Annise had passed him. But now he was a seventeen year old with no idea what his nature was, and no improvement manifesting it. No matter how excited he wanted to be for graduation, it felt like an empty accomplishment. "What good was learning all this when I can't even get past the first step?" he thought, turning his gaze back toward the window.