The warm winds of summer whistled around her ears, tugging at her mane of golden brown curls as Maya looked out over the ocean. Gentle waves crashed on the beach, sending up a sparkling spray of cool ocean water which made her wonder what it would be like to be a Water Elemental. The seas wouldn’t merely be a beautiful world of the unknown, but a resource that she could bend to her will.
The town of Kiwali’a was so isolated from the rest of the empire, that barely anything had changed when they had been conquered. Walking around, the only sign of the emperor’s hand was an elegant beach house that stretched across a large portion of the beach. The emperor had had it built as a vacation home but had yet to use it.
Kiwali’a was a peaceful and serene getaway with its soft, white sands and clear blue waves. But to Maya’s adventurous spirit, the town was just an extent of where her adventures would take her. She longed for the day when she could leave her home behind and journey through the Empire, meeting new people and exploring new lands.
Maya was already seventeen and ready to explore, but there was something about her coastal home that kept her there. Her parents knew she wanted to explore and supported her through thick and thin. She knew she would miss them, but it wasn’t they that held her back. Something else kept her at the small, quaint town she called home.
Then something small and wet alighted upon her nose, startling her out of her thoughts. Maya let out a surprised yelp. It was a snowflake, she’d seen them in books before but never herself. Her head turned to the clear blue skies as more tiny little snowflakes fell from above, most melting before touching the ground.
A Snow Elemental. Maya inhaled sharply; she had never seen one at work. she turned to face inland, her brilliant green eyes searching for the source of this wondrous occurrence. They quickly alighted upon a mini snowstorm swirling just beyond the edge of the forest a few miles from Kiwali’a.
Before her brain even registered it, she’d drawn her wand, prepared to teleport to the forest for a closer look. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to stop and think. Running into a snowstorm was dangerous. Especially for her, she had never even seen snow before today. But a small voice in her head whispered that adventure was out there and she was missing it. That tipped the scales and, taking a deep breath, Maya raised her wand and teleported to the forest’s outskirts. She stowed her wand and jogged into the forest, the prospect of adventure shot adrenaline through her body and made her giddy with excitement.
Venturing further into the storm, Maya shivered, the temperature had dropped dramatically, making her wish she had a coat. She had no idea how to cast a spell to keep her warm, there was never any need to learn. The best she could do was cast a clarity spell to allow her eyes to pick up more detail, not just the seemingly impenetrable wall of swirling snow. As she hurried towards the center of the storm, doubt started to trickle in and she wondered if she had made the right decision.
Maya shoved the thoughts out of her head and pushed onwards determinedly. Only a few steps further brought her into a small clearing. The storm seemed different here, not as thick and hazy but more cumbersome to trek through. The sounds of the storm also seemed muted, letting the sounds of steel against steel carry easily to her ears.
Immediately, almost instinctively, her wand traced a concealment spell, rendering her completely invisible. It was a difficult spell and one she knew that many Sorcerers failed to accomplish, but Maya had always been fascinated with concealment and that was the area of sorcery she had spent the most time practicing. By now, her concealment spells were so powerful that only the strongest, most dedicated Sorcerers would be able to find her.
Figures drew her gaze as she glanced around, curiosity and exhilaration quickening her pulse. There were six figures in all and it looked like a very unfair fight between five black-clothed figures against a solitary figure in a white top. Maya squinted into the snow, making out a dark head of hair and a lithe, athletic body of a woman. Even to her inexperienced eyes, the difference in their movements was crystal clear. The figures in black seemed to be weighed down by the storm, their movements seemed labored and hindered. The woman, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be weighed down at all. If anything, her movements seemed to be enhanced. She moved with the easy grace of an athlete, weaving through the dark shapes with a stunning amount of speed and nimbleness. But she didn’t move fluidly; her movements were sharp and sudden, not at all fluid or elegant. Nevertheless, her movements were far superior to her opponents.
For a moment fear crowded her mind as she took in the deadly weapons of the figures before her. But Maya found herself creeping forward, fascinated by the clash of steel on steel and the deadly dance of the fighters.
A loud screech drew her attention upwards to where three blue-grey falcons were unleashing merciless attacks upon a snowy-white owl that Maya could barely make out against the white backdrop of snow. One thing Maya found odd was that the owl’s feathers seemed to have teal tips with no connection to its other colors.
The owl was outnumbered but it seemed to be holding its own, keeping the falcons apart with its razor-sharp claws and hooked beak. The birds dived, soared, and struck, mirroring the battle taking place below them. Maya watched as the owl, with a well-placed shove, knocked one of the falcons out of the air and she watched it plummet towards the ground. Hesitating for only a moment, Maya whipped out her wand and whispered an incantation, slowing the bird’s fall from the skies. It landed in a large snowdrift beside the fighters on the ground.
Their number had almost halved in the time Maya had spent watching the sky and now only the dark-haired woman and three others still fought. Even as she watched another of the black-clothed figures crumpled to the ground. Another went down moments later to a surprise strike to their leg.
Maya let out a faint squeak as a tiger fell from the sky, crushing the final black garnetted figure under its weight. The entire animal was pure white with jet black stripes and fierce grey-blue eyes. There was one oddity to the animal, the very tip of its tail was a dark teal color, just a spot of color on the otherwise completely black and white animal. At the sound from Maya, it turned its head in her direction, head cocked, ears pricked. It crept towards her slowly but was distracted when another woman teleported just to its left.
This woman was tall with dark skin and hair, and a Sorcerer. The tiger turned and bounded back to her, changing as it did into a lovely blond Shapeshifter with teal tipped hair and a black cloak. Even from where Maya stood, she heard the woman’s clear voice ring out clearly through the cool air. “Snow. It had to be snow. Summertime means clear skies, warm weather, beautiful beaches. Not snow, never snow.”
The Sorcerer just shook her head and, with a quick flick of her wand, the temperature rose quickly back to its usual tropical temperature. The woman in white raised her hands and the storm clouds in the sky disappeared; an Elemental. They conversed in hushed tones for a few moments before walking around, tying up their captives. When they finished tying the final one, the Elemental traced a symbol in the air, and looking down, Maya found the silhouette of a soaring dragon tattooed on to the earth. She held in a gasp because even as isolated as she was, even she knew the Soaring Dragons. Maya doubted there was a man, woman, or child in the empire who did not. She looked up, only in time to see the three figures teleport away.
Left in the clearing alone, Maya stood frozen to her place, awe still coursing through her. Vaguely she felt her invisibility melt off her like a second skin as her energy expired. Her energy thoroughly depleted, she trudged back home by foot.
When she entered her family’s clothes shop, most of her initial shock had faded away, leaving a euphoric feeling. Maya danced through the shop, her thoughts whirling but all focused on one distinct feeling that she had crossed a threshold and she would never go back.
The girl in question was currently pulling on a pair of lavender shorts and a white tank top with gold embroidery. Of all the clothes they made and sold, those were her favorites. Maya ran down the stairs of her family’s house and through the living room. When she burst into the shop, her cheeks were flushed with exertion and her eyes were clear and bright. Yesterday’s excitement had yet to leave her. “Hey, Mom!”
“Good morning, sleep well?” Her mom gave her a quick hug and led her to where a pair of women conversed together. “I have these two customers that I’d like you to help out if you don’t mind.”
“Of course not, M-mom,” Maya faltered as the girls turned. They were the Shapeshifter and Elemental from the storm. She had a head of jet black hair and wore a crisp mint colored shirt. But her hair still bore its blue tips and her eyes were still a stormy blue. The Elemental was the same, obviously, with waves of dark hair and tanned skin but upon closer inspection, her brown eyes were as cold as ice and set into a stony face.
Maya fixed her face into a smile, employing all her years as an assistant shopkeeper to keep it nonchalant and natural. “Good morning, welcome to Emerson's Apparel, how can I help you?”
The Shapeshifter stepped forward grinning brightly, “Hi! I’m Ava. Faith and I are looking to buy some clothes. We’re looking for something along the lines of one size fits clothes. We’re looking to buy a bunch of matching presents for all our aunts and uncles.”
“We may have something like that.” Maya split her attention between helping the two women with their shopping and trying to decide what to do. She settled on what she believed was a neutral question. “May I ask you how long you’re staying? I haven’t seen you around Kiwali’a before.”
“A few days, maybe.” Ava glanced at her counterpart. “What do you think, Faith?”
“Yeah, a few days, we’re not actually staying here in Kiwali’a. We came exploring and decided to visit this town,” Faith said cooly.
“Be nice, Faith,” Ava chided cheerfully, she turned back to Maya. “She’s just grumpy because I made her come along.”
“Ah, I see.” Maya took a turn and stopped. “How do these look?”
“They look perfect.” Ava grinned winningly as Faith grabbed what looked to be over two dozen of the clothing. Maya wasn’t fooled, she had seen the girl fall from the sky in the form of a tiger and crush a living being. But she kept up her facade smoothly, never missing a beat.
“That’s a lot of family.” Maya whistled appreciatively. “Anything else I can get you?”
“We need some kid clothes, thirteen of them?” Ava said sheepishly.
“Of course, come with me.” Maya and Ava walked together while Faith staggered along behind, a stack of clothes in her arms as well as one hovering near her shoulder.
“Here we are,” Maya said, and watched as the clothes flew into the air. She made a split-second decision, her courage making her thoughtless, “If that’s all, let’s go give my mother the clothes for her to measure out. While she’s doing that, could you two come with me, I’d love to show you something.”
Ava and Faith exchanged a glance, a silent exchange seemed to happen before Faith turned back with a smile and a cautious nod. Maya noted the slight change in their postures as their movements tensed but grew more purposeful.
Maya led them to the counter and after dropping them off with her mother, brought them to her room. She closed the door behind them and took a moment to simply stare at them, size them up. She sensed that they were doing the same to her. She decided to start with a question, she wanted to know what they would tell her. “Who are you really?”
Ava’s eyebrows came together in confusion, “Pardon?”
“I saw both of you yesterday in the middle of the storm,” Maya stated, hoping to surprise them. When they each whipped out a pair of knives she realized she should’ve been more cautious. The only sharp object on her person was a pair of sewing scissors.
“Who are you?” Faith demanded as she and Ava advanced, knives ready. Her voice was cold as ice with an Arctic bite to match.
“Maya,” She muttered, eyes fixed on the knives in their hands. Her courage seemed to have abandoned her at the mere sight of the gleaming weapons. Thanks a lot, she thought bitterly. “Maya Emerson.”
“What do you want with us?” Ava asked, the question was an order but her tone wasn't quite as menacing as Faith's. It was softer, sadder in a way. For a short moment, no more than a second, Ava’s emotionless mask slipped, and Maya felt like she was peering into a very raw part of her soul. The immense amount of sadness and pain there gave her pause. But she was determined.
Somewhere deep within her, in her heart, or her soul maybe, she knew that this was her calling and she was ready. So Maya met their gazes boldly and said simply, “I know who you are, what you do...and I want to join you.”