Authors: Jess Bowen
“I suppose it’s dinner time,” Evan said to no one in particular. Turning to Phoebe, he said, “You should probably get back to your room before the food gets cold.”
“Oh, right,” Phoebe replied, handing the cub back to Evan and rising to leave. Turning back at the door, she said, “By the way, thanks for everything you told us. I hope we can all be friends.”
“Sure thing. I’m glad we could help,” Evan said, and then as she was turning the door knob, he added, “Do you want to go to the celebration with us tomorrow? I think Bree would like you to join us.”
Indeed, Bree had escaped from Evan’s arms once again and was trying to climb up Phoebe’s leg. She knelt down and played with the cub for a moment before answering.
“Yeah, all right,” she said. “Thanks.” She picked the cub up again and handed him back to Evan. Then she smiled and stepped out the door and across the hall to her room. After she crossed the hall, Ethan could see two other girls in her room. They introduced themselves to Phoebe as she closed the door.
The twins hastened over to their beds to grab their bowls of food. Ethan’s mind was still spinning as he walked over to his own bed and looked down at his bowl. What was inside didn’t look bad, but it didn’t necessarily look good either. It looked like watered down porridge.
“What is this?” he asked, unsure if it was actually edible, however Evan and Jared seemed to be enjoying it.
“Whatever you want it to be,” Evan said between mouthfuls.
Ethan looked down at his bowl doubtfully. It hadn’t changed. It still looked gray, lumpy, and unappetizing.
“It’s part of the gnomes’ magic,” Jared explained. “It tastes like whatever you want it to. You just have to think about what you want it to taste like. And you can change it whenever you want. It’s called glume. They serve it because it conserves our food resources and because it’s an accurate way to make sure everyone gets proper nutrition. You know, vitamins, minerals, proteins, that kind of thing. Because no matter what you make it taste like, it still has all the healthy stuff inside.”
That sounded interesting. Ethan took a moment and thought of how much he would like to have some of his mother’s spaghetti and meatballs. Looking down at his bowl he brought the spoon to his mouth. He paused for a moment. It seemed a bit farfetched, but so did everything else here. Besides, if it wasn’t any good, he didn’t have to eat any more. Ethan put the spoon in his mouth and was pleasantly surprised to find that it had the exact taste, texture, and temperature of spaghetti and meatballs. He hadn’t even realized that he was hungry until this very moment, and he greedily jammed another spoonful into his mouth.
After a few minutes, he decided to put this crazy food to the test. Ethan thought about salad—a completely different texture, taste, and temperature. The next bite was perfect. It tasted like the salad had come straight from a garden.
, he thought. As he continued eating, he noticed Bree and Sadi running laps around the room.
“Not to be a nudge or anything, but shouldn’t you feed them?” Ethan asked Evan and Jared, motioning to the two small animals.
Evan laughed and choked on his food. He coughed a few times and when he had recovered he explained his amusement. “Well, we could. They don’t often eat anything, although they can.”
Jared’s face contorted in disgust, and he shook his head sadly.
Ethan was confused.
Jared spoke up, apparently better at the explaining part. “What he means is although they can eat separately if they want to, it’s not really necessary, unless we were starving or something. When we eat, they eat. Well, not technically, but when we’re done eating they’ll feel as if they have just eaten as well. It’s part of the connection.”
Oh. It was weird, but Ethan could see how that would save time and food.
The rest of the evening passed quickly. Ethan listened to Evan and Jared talk about all kinds of things he didn’t understand while he asked questions here and there. As they talked, he mostly thought over everything that had happened and been said that day.
Ethan finally had some answers, which was nice, however intimidating those answers may be. Being a Master of an Element now sounded like a big deal. He still wasn’t quite sure what power to expect, but apparently he should be expecting something. He already missed his parents and his friends. James, Mark, and Kyle had been his best friends since second grade. They did practically everything together. Ethan was pretty sure that he could comfortably call Evan and Jared friends, but it didn’t replace the ones he already had.
He had no idea what his parents planned to tell his friends when they came by tonight to pick him up for the bonfire. Maybe they would tell them he’d suddenly decided to join the military or got kidnapped by the Russian mob. Ethan was sure that whatever they said was going to sound a bit crazy, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. He was here now, and that didn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
Ethan had a full work schedule at a local restaurant for the next week. He was sure they could get someone to cover the shifts, but that wasn’t exactly the point. He loved that job. Sure he was only a bus boy, but he had a lot of fun there, and he loved to talk to all the different people that came and went. So many people had fascinating stories if someone would just sit down and listen long enough.
Then there was school, Dartmouth. His parents had pushed him hard enough to keep his grades high, and he had managed to get into an Ivy League school. All for nothing. They had known too; they had known that he would never actually be going, and that made him angry. Why go to all the trouble if it wasn’t going to benefit him in the end? Perhaps he was being a little whiney. Ethan was glad Phoebe couldn’t read his mind now; she probably would have slapped him upside the head, and he considered that he would have deserved it.
Evan and Jared were discussing training when something Ethan heard caught his attention.
“How many people do you think are in First Order?” Evan asked.
“Probably not many. Maybe ten or fifteen. I heard someone say the number keeps going down every year. After all, we’re the only two from our safe place. Although, I don’t think it’s been affecting the talents since those are pretty much random chance there,” Jared replied.
“Obviously, since everyone else in the family has one except for mom and me,” Evan replied sourly.
Ethan broke in at that. “Wait, what’s the difference between the First Order stuff and talents? I thought they were the same thing.”
Jared explained. “First, Second, and Third Order only classifies us by our Elemental powers. Talents are separate from that. They’re like extra powers and not connected at all to Elemental powers. Talents don’t necessarily gift themselves upon people with more power, either. Evan doesn’t have a talent.” Evan scowled. “But someone in Third Order could have a really strong talent like Transfiguration or Strength or Speed. And a lot of people can have the same talent, although the strength of it is usually different from person to person. Take Speed—if two people have it, maybe one could only run five miles an hour faster than normal human speed and another could run sixty miles an hour faster.”
“So, what do Elemental powers do, then?” Ethan asked. He had thought Elemental powers related to what Phoebe had said she could do.
“Conjure the Elements, you know, like storms, fireballs, earthquakes. Of course, those are examples of First Order strength. I’m not sure how strong Second and Third Orders are,” Evan explained this time.
He was apparently not happy about the fact that he didn’t have a talent, but at the thought of what his Elemental powers could do he seemed to cheer up. Earthquakes, huh? Definitely sounded like fun. Ethan wondered if he could actually do anything yet. Did it require some kind of exercise to make these powers work? He didn’t think so. After all, Phoebe had been using her talent forever it sounded like. Not to mention that shield she had thrown up. She hadn’t even noticed it. A knock on the door pulled Ethan from his thoughts.
Jared jumped up to answer it. Phoebe was back, and she had brought her two roommates with her. She smiled shyly.
“Hey, guys, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if we came over. We’re dead bored,” she explained.
Bree turned mid-lap and raced to Phoebe to jump into her arms. Phoebe was surprised for a minute before scratching the bear’s ears.
“Wow, how rude! We haven’t even introduced ourselves to the trainees across the hall! Jared, how could you?” Evan said dramatically.
Jared pursed his lips and rolled his eyes. Everyone else snickered.
“Not at all, come in!” Jared said, holding the door open. Phoebe stepped in, and two girls followed behind her. Jared introduced everyone. “I’m Jared Ward, that’s Evan, and Ethan, of course. I’m sure you already know who he is.”
A small girl with bright red hair and green eyes peered around as Jared spoke. Her eyes landed on Ethan last, and he noticed that her almond-shaped eyes were the exact color of emeralds. Long red hair fell in waves down her back, and her skin was pale. The combination of red hair and green eyes was usually accompanied by a legion of freckles; however, Ethan couldn’t see one. She had a heart-shaped face and a small nose. Her eyes were alight with interest, but her demeanor was calm and composed.
“Yes, we do know. We saw you arrive. My name is Lucy Kendall. It’s nice to meet you.” Her voice was soft and melodic.
She smiled. Ethan couldn’t help but smile in response as he stood up to greet her. “It’s nice to meet you, Lucy.”
He shook her hand lightly. A shock shot through him and filled him with warmth as his hand connected with hers, even though her skin felt cold. The irritation that had filled him since his arrival vanished.
She was not nearly as small as his mother—she was five-foot-four easy—but she seemed almost as delicate. Then, feeling it would be rude if he didn’t, Ethan turned to the other girl who had entered the room. She was the tallest of the three girls, maybe only two inches shorter than Evan and Jared.
She had shorter, sandy blond hair that fell in soft curls to her shoulders. Dark, almost black, eyes stood out in contrast to her hair. The color of her eyes was slightly frightening, but she looked pleasant enough other than that. Her arms and legs were not gangly looking, despite her height; her figure was streamlined and perfectly symmetrical. She looked confident but very friendly.
“Hello, I’m Cynthia Holt,” she said as she shook Ethan’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you,” he replied. Her skin was blistering hot, and her grip was firm but sure.
She then turned and shook hands with Evan and Jared as the six of them adjourned to the sitting room. Lucy and Cynthia settled into the chairs on either side of the fireplace. Evan and Phoebe sat on the couch beside Lucy’s chair, and Jared and Ethan took the couch opposite them. Phoebe pulled her shoulder bag out from around her and tossed it lightly onto the table. Some stuff slid out of her bag: a pen, the corner of her notebook, a couple of hair bands, and her cell phone. Everyone was just getting settled into their seat when they all spotted the phone. Then the ring tone sounded.
Phoebe snatched it up quickly and looked at the Caller ID. She looked just as surprised as everyone else in the room. Then she turned to Ethan.
“It’s one of my friends. What should I do?” she asked anxiously.
“Well, don’t answer it. What are you going to tell them? Sorry, but I can’t talk; I’m in another world right now?” Ethan laughed at his own bad humor. “How are you even getting service? There’s no way there’s a tower anywhere close.”
It was true. He hadn’t yet seen anything that was even operated by electricity or batteries.
Finally, the ring silenced as whoever was on the other line hung up. Phoebe looked distraught. Ethan couldn’t blame her; she was giving up as much as he was. All her friends, family, school, everything she had ever known. The fact that she had actually received a call was not nearly as important as the oppressive sadness of having to leave it all behind, to not even be able to answer the phone and at least say goodbye. They weren’t intentionally abandoning their friends, but that’s what it would feel like to those back home. Their friends would never know, never understand where Ethan and Phoebe had gone and why. Evan, Jared, Cynthia, and Lucy were all still staring at the phone with almost unbridled interest. Phoebe noticed and smiled.
“Would you guys like to look at it?”
Evan nearly jumped in excitement. “What is it?” he asked, his eyes shining.
Ethan took over. Phoebe wasn’t hiding her sadness very well, but he could tell she didn’t want them to know. “It’s a phone. It’s how we communicate with one another when we’re in different places.”
“Amazing,” Jared breathed, leaning forward.
Phoebe handed the phone to Evan. “Here, go ahead and look at it if you want, just don’t push this button. Don’t want to make any…calls.”
She then got up and settled down in a chair beside the entryway that led to the bedroom. Ethan could tell she was doing this to give them more room to crowd around the tiny phone. He too moved to the other chair under the pretense of the same notion.
Her eyes were shining with unshed tears.
“You okay?” Ethan asked quietly as Evan found the ring tones menu and started playing each separate one.
She nodded. “Yeah, it just was…unexpected. That’s all. I didn’t think I was going to have to deal with it, not like that. Deliberately not answering a phone call because I can’t tell them where I am, like they would believe me anyway.”
“I understand; it’s hard to just let it go. I guess we don’t really have a choice, though, since we were never offered one,” Ethan responded.
Phoebe nodded sadly.
“Just turn it off,” Ethan suggested. “That is, if you ever get it back.”
It sounded insensitive, but he couldn’t think of any other advice. He wished he had some to give, some comfort to offer.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “Like you said, we didn’t have a choice so now we just deal with it, I guess.”
She was answering his unspoken thoughts. He couldn’t think of anything more to say. What did one think or feel when, all of a sudden, everything was gone?