Perhaps it is nerves, or perhaps it was because I turned in early, but either way I am the first person awake in the camp. I smile as I stretch in the cool morning air, the dawn lighting up the sky. I gather my toiletries and my clothing and head for the single shower. I ought to have washed last night. I stink of Ox.
I wonder if there’s a way to wash my clothing. I only brought one change, which I’m wearing today. I’ll need something for tomorrow, which reminds me; I have no idea how long this test is. As I shake the water from my hair I remember the small pond.
Our Camp Supervisor emerges from his tent and stretches as I head back to mine. He smiles at me. “Early riser eh?”
I shrug and enter my tent to grab my smelly clothing. By the time I’m out he’s no longer in sight. I heard the bell when I was by the pond yesterday. It should be easy to get back in time if I make sure to listen for the double ring.
Though I don’t really know where the pond is, I feel it call me. If I listen closely and let nature fill my mind I can hear more that just the pond. It overwhelms me and I quickly pull myself back. I focus instead on washing my clothing.
Scrubbing it with sand and rinsing it in the water I wonder how I am to dry it. I don’t want to leave it here or at the camp site, because who knows what Zack might do. Well if I can use my affinity to dry my hair faster, why not my clothing. So I find a branch to hang my clothing on.
They are dripping wet and Water is teasing me. It challenges me to work with the other elements. I am hesitant to use Fire, because I don’t want burnt clothing. But Dad burnt a paper crane, yet it was unharmed and cool to the touch. I close my eyes and pray to nature for guidance.
I use fire to warm the air to pull the water from the garment. I call upon water to draw the dirt out of it, but first I ask earth to cooperate. I feel weak when working with earth, but I feel I ought to practice given it’s what I shall be tested upon today.
At last my clothing is dry. I have no way of knowing how much time has past. I fold my clothing and return to camp. Martha crawls out of her tent as I start putting stuff into mine.
“David up yet?” she asks.
I shrug and clamber into my tent. I am hesitant to bring my sword. I don’t even know how to fight with it. I remember what Dad told me when he gave it to me. I decide to take it just as I hear the bell ring twice. In fifteen minutes we are all gathered for breakfast. Some of us more bleary eyed than others.
That doesn’t stop Zack from being rude. He deliberately grabs the serving bowls whenever Martha or I try to serve ourselves. His cohort snickers.
“Zackary Hackensack,” Charles exclaims. A burst of air pushes Zack’s chair to the wall and keeps him pinned. “You will cease and desist your rudeness at once.” He turns to us. “Help yourselves girls.”
The rest of breakfast passes without incident. Once everyone is done, he rings the bell twice. That means we have fifteen minutes before we need to re-gather. I’m glad I’ve already showered. Apparently Martha had too, since she’s in the bathroom brushing her teeth when I get there.
“Do you think it will be easy?” She asks, as I step up to the second sink.
I shrug. Easy or hard the only thing that matters is that I pass. Martha looks back into the mirror. She studies her face.
“I hope I pass,” she says, her face is mournful. “Someone’s failed in my family every generation and I’m the last one left in this one.”
I stop for a moment and look at myself, then glance at her. “You have a better chance of passing than I do.”
She looks at me shocked. “You’re of Ollerond, how can you say that?” She leaves me stunned.
I look at myself in the mirror wondering if she sees more than I do. The bell rings thrice and I quickly finish and put my things away. We gather out front where Charles stands beside the bell. Zack, yet again, makes a show of siding away from Martha and I. Not that he can go far, there are only five of us.
“Good Morning Candidates and welcome to the first day of the real test. How you fare today shall determine what you are tasked with tomorrow.” He smiles at us. “Now,” he pulls an object from behind his back. “This is a lesser elemental idol.”
He pans the object around the group. It’s about a foot tall, sculpture of a Faerie, wings out stretched, working with her element; water. She’s pulling water from the ground and forming it into a sphere in her hands. It’s beautiful.
“There are three other lesser elemental idols like this one to represent Earth, Air and Fire. These are what you will seek.”
“All of us?” Martha manages to squeak as Zack snickers. “Like everyone who passed the fitness test?”
Charles chuckles. “No Martha, for these four idols you will only be competing against six others at most.” She nods and he continues.
“Your instructors, whom you all heard from yesterday, will give you your first clue. Follow it to the idol. Pick up the idol and you will be ported back here. If your idol has been taken by someone else your instructor will let you know. However, you are to continue following that first clue.”
“If you are second to reach the idol’s location search for a written clue, it will lead you to the next idol. If you do not get the clue, your Instructor will inform you and give you the next clue. This you will do until you have had a chance at all four elements. When you are done, return here and enter your tents. You are to stay silent and hidden until the bell rings twice.”
He makes a fancy show with his hands and the Lesser Elemental Idol disappears. We all gasp and he shoos us out of camp.