Authors: Jess Bowen
Dorian had a businesslike look on his face. “The celebration will begin in a half an hour. Are you ready to go down?” he asked, looking over Ethan’s clothes to make sure he was properly dressed.
“I am. Just let me check with everyone else.”
Dorian raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“Phoebe and our roommates,” Ethan said in answer to Dorian’s unasked question. Dorian nodded, and Ethan thought that loosening up a bit might do the guy some good. When it appeared Dorian wasn’t going to say anything else, Ethan turned to the sitting room.
“Hey, you guys ready to go? Dorian came to take us down,” he called.
He heard the groan of the furniture as everyone got up from where they were sitting and made their way into the room. “Sure,” Evan said as Bree climbed onto Phoebe’s shoulder.
Evan frowned. “Want to go down with me? I think that’s the only way I’m going to be anywhere near Bree for the rest of the day,” he asked Phoebe.
She laughed, and Ethan heard Dorian shift behind him. “Sure,” she replied.
They joined arms in an exaggerated manner, both laughing the whole time. Jared and Cynthia were standing next to one another, and he offered her his arm. She smiled and took it. Both pairs made their way out of the room to stand with Dorian. Lucy drifted forward before standing beside Ethan.
“Would you mind if we go down together?” she asked quietly.
No, not really,
not in the least little bit
. “That sounds good to me,” he replied.
She smiled and took his arm as they, too, joined the group in the hallway. Dorian’s face looked harder, if that was possible, when he walked into the hallway, and Sebastian twisted his hands nervously again as he stood off to the side, looking like he was trying to stay out of sight and not draw attention to himself.
The group made their way down and out of the building. Ethan tried to remember the various hallways so he could find the way back to the room later, but it seemed impossible. Left, right, past three doors, turn left, down two flights of stairs, left, right—he would never remember. When they finally reached the entrance hall and walked past the pool of water in the middle, he looked at it curiously, wondering when he would get a chance to get a companion.
The trainees walked in silence as they followed Dorian and Sebastian. The latter kept glancing back at them, looking apprehensive and skirting away from Evan and Phoebe, who were in front of the group. Ethan had thought this man was odd to begin with, but just then Sebastian reminded him of a servant who had been beaten too many times and was trying his hardest to do as he was told to avoid further beatings. Ethan looked at Dorian and realized that he didn’t know much about him and wondered if perhaps he was being too harsh with Sebastian.
From what Ethan had seen of Dorian, that didn’t seem to be that far of a stretch. The man seemed to have two moods: cold and colder. He looked like he might once have been happy, but the laugh lines around his mouth and eyes had long since been muted. It didn’t even look as if he was capable of showing any emotion at all anymore.
As they walked out the door and the dazzling sunlight hit Ethan’s face, all other thoughts were driven out of his mind. It was beautiful outside. Banners hung from thin air, each one a different color. Ethan realized after careful examination that from each of the green banners fell leaves and flowers that disappeared when they hit the ground. From the blue banners fell water drops, but when he walked underneath them, he didn’t get wet. When he walked under the silver banners, gusts of wind blew his hair around as though he was caught in a soft breeze, and the red banners engulfed themselves in flames only to reappear seconds later as good as new.
All along the open walkway, there were booths set up displaying various items. Children ran up and down, chasing one another and laughing as they used their powers to block each other. Animals of all sorts and sizes wove their way in and out of the crowd, following their Masters. Gnomes and dwarves sat in circles here and there and talked excitedly. Tiny beings flew throughout the air, some with feathered wings, others with wings resembling those of dragonflies or butterflies. Some drifted along with no apparent support at all.
Knots of what Ethan guessed were elves stood together watching the proceedings, evidently there to maintain order. Each one had long hair pulled back in one way or another and pointed ears. They were all bearing a sword, a quiver of arrows, and a bow slung over their backs. There were several beings he didn’t recognize. Some were about half his height with pointed ears and green skin and severe looks on their faces.
Ethan was in awe of all that was going on around him. He barely noticed that as he walked by, everyone stopped for a moment to stare at his group. Ethan only noticed that this was happening after Lucy had started walking a little closer to him, apparently uncomfortable with all the attention. He looked up to see where they were going and saw that they were heading to the edge of the lake where a platform had been raised. Cassius and his snow tiger were waiting for them.
When they arrived at the platform, Dorian signaled for them to wait. Jared and Cynthia stood off to the side; they must have thought that Cassius and Dorian would not want anything to do with them. Dorian walked up onto the platform and looked out at the crowd.
“Settle down now,” he said quite unnecessarily. Once everyone had seen Ethan, Phoebe, and their friends arrive at the platform, they had all become silent and watched with interest. The only sounds were those of beating wings as creatures hovered here and there observing the proceedings.
Cassius stepped forward to speak. “Good day to everyone.” He spread his arms out, looking like he would give them all a hug if he could. His voice was magnified and seemed to echo around the crowd. “This is a day of celebration. Today we celebrate the Elements; they give us our power.” At this, Sebastian snorted heavily. “They connect us, give us life, and sustain us. Today we honor them with this celebration, and in so doing we recognize that none are higher than any others, and as such, all creatures under their care, both human and otherwise, are equal.”
The entire crowd murmured in agreement as they all looked in reverence at one another. “Also, on this day we must realize that there are four above us, above the Elements themselves. They are the Masters of the Elements and, therefore, our Masters.” Phoebe and Ethan glanced at one another. Ethan hoped that Cassius wasn’t talking about them. He didn’t want to be anyone’s Master. “As I am sure most of you are aware, the last two of the Masters returned home yesterday evening and will be trained to take their rightful place in the Order of the Elements.”
Eyes that had been flickering between Cassius and their small group were now firmly fixed upon the group. Ethan shifted uncomfortably. It was quite unnerving to have so many eyes gazing curiously at him, and he was made even more uncomfortable by what Cassius had just said. He had a feeling the crowd was waiting for some show of power. Ethan felt like he was going to be sick.
Couldn’t they have prepared us or something?
he thought. Dorian then turned and nodded his head at Ethan and Phoebe, urging them to step up on the platform. Phoebe looked from Ethan to Evan nervously.
“Come with me?” Ethan heard her ask Evan quietly.
He could tell that she was just as uncomfortable with all of this as he was. Evan nodded and took her hand to accompany her to the top of the platform. Lucy made to go over and stand with Jared and Cynthia, but Ethan grabbed her hand. He wasn’t going up there alone either. She turned to look at him, and sympathy and understanding flashed across her green eyes. She took Ethan’s hand and climbed up the stairs with him. His legs felt heavier and heavier with every step he took.
Cassius continued once Ethan and Lucy reached the top. “You all know our Master of Wind, Dorian.” Dorian lifted his hand in acknowledgment of the outbreak of cheering. “He turns sixty-seven today!” There were shouts of “Happy birthday” throughout the crowd.
Wait, sixty-seven? Seriously?
Ethan thought and glanced at Phoebe, who was just as awestruck as he was. He turned to Lucy, forgetting about the rather large crowd that stared in his general direction. Just out of the corner of his eye, Ethan saw Phoebe lean toward Evan.
“Sixty-seven? But Dorian doesn’t look any older than we are!” Ethan whispered to Lucy.
Lucy looked at him questioningly. “When you live to be four hundred years old, you don’t tend to start looking older for a while. Isn’t it like that where you’re from?”
Ethan was stunned. Four hundred years old? Was that even possible? Was there anything that wasn’t possible here?
“No, people only live to be seventy or eighty there.”
“Only seventy or eighty? That’s very short,” Lucy said.
Ethan nodded; compared with four hundred years, that was indeed short. Cassius continued talking when the shouting stopped.
“Now I would like to introduce our Masters of Water and Earth, Phoebe and Ethan. They turn nineteen today and are therefore eligible to begin their training.”
The cheering nearly shook the ground. Ethan quickly glanced at Phoebe again and saw that she was as taken aback as he was. He didn’t feel as if he deserved it in the slightest. At least Phoebe had seen some of her power, but he still had no idea if he even had any—none had seen fit to show themselves yet. On the other hand, he felt obligated to show some appreciation for their faith in them. Taking his cue from Phoebe, they both nodded their heads in appreciation. Ethan felt that the cheering went on entirely too long, and he was sure his face had turned quite red. When the crowd finally settled down, Cassius once again spoke.
“Now, without further delay, let the celebration begin!”
As he finished speaking, he raised his arms into the air and jets of water seemed to spew right from them. With almost a lazy flick of his arm, Dorian produced a wind that began twisting the water until it resembled a funnel, and it made its way through the crowd as children tried to hop inside for a quick ride. It was apparently a tradition to start the festival this way, and it was not dangerous in any way. With that, a horn sounded and music started playing. People all around started dancing and laughing and having fun. Ethan was relieved to have all of them turn their attention away from him. He felt like an artifact on display.
“Now, you all enjoy the celebration and your birthday, of course,” Cassius said. “It is always an experience. Tomorrow you will receive your companions, and the day after that you will begin your training along with everyone else.” That said, he stepped down and off of the platform to join a group of people dancing nearby.
Lucy, Evan, Phoebe, and Ethan stepped down after him to go join Jared and Cynthia.
“I don’t think your faces could have gotten any redder if you’d tried!” Cynthia said, working as hard as she could not to laugh at them.
Those who had been standing on the platform produced their best glare to shoot at her, after which she proceeded to burst out laughing, unable to hold it in any longer. The laughter was contagious, and before long they all joined in.
“What do you say we go and get something to eat?” Evan said, wiping tears away from his eyes.
“Yes, let’s. I’m starving!” Lucy said, grabbing Ethan’s hand and pulling him to a buffet table that he had failed to notice earlier.
There were dishes and dishes of wonderful food all down the table. Apparently the gnomes had chosen to make actual food for this occasion instead of the glume. Ethan had a feeling they did it more for looks than anything else, but he didn’t care. All his favorite things were there, and that was just perfect. After they each piled food on their plates, they went over to one of the tables by the lake and started eating.
The day passed relatively quickly. The group spent most of the day talking. That is, everyone talked while Phoebe and Ethan listened and asked questions when necessary. Ethan learned more about Lucy and Cynthia. Lucy was in the First Order of the Wind Element. She was also quite good with her power already. She could produce small funnels and quite a stiff wind when she wanted to.
She also had a talent: Telekinesis. She could move things with her mind. Her concentration wasn’t that strong, though, and things didn’t usually move far. She released her companion later that day, and Ethan discovered it was a magnificent chestnut colored foal named Thor. When full grown, he would be a stallion of an extremely rare breed. Not that it mattered; companions couldn’t mate, but of the wild horses, Thor’s kind was exceptionally hard to find.
Cynthia and Lucy had been friends for a long time. They had grown up right next to each other. It was funny, though, because they had such different personalities. Lucy was quiet and reserved while Cynthia was more outspoken and outgoing. Phoebe’s demeanor fell about in the middle of their two personalities.
Cynthia was in the First Order of the Fire Element, although she didn’t have any talents. She was quite proud to be part of the Fire Element since there were so few left that were loyal to the resistance anymore. However, she felt she had a lot to live up to, and it made her anxious. She also released her companion as the day wore on. Beau was a falcon with soft feathers. He hadn’t yet molted to receive his flying feathers, but Ethan could tell he was going to be quite nice-looking when he did. His color was already a soft bronze.
After a while, they joined some of the games and watched the shows put on by the various creatures. At almost timed intervals, there was a display of power somewhere or another. They also spent some time dancing—not very gracefully—along with the rest of the crowd. As they passed by booths, those manning them would thrust gifts in Ethan and Phoebe’s direction as they wished them a happy birthday. Ethan was embarrassed every time this happened, as was Phoebe. Neither one of them said anything more than thank you, and they both tried to steer clear of the booths after the first few times it happened.