For most of her childhood, Adriel was a boisterous troublemaker. She loved to dance and laugh and play in the sun, building forts and slinging mud at the neighbourhood boys. Other parents whispered that she was a troublemaker, but her wide grin always make her the object of affection. As she grew older, she learned to reign in some of her behaviour but never lost the silly grin or her thirst for adventure.
She didn't look quite like most children, either. Her hair was long and pale, almost as pale as her milky-white skin. She had stony grey eyes and small pink lips. Though she was never beautiful, she had a unique attractiveness and a sparkle in her eyes that earned her quite a few appreciative glances.
On any given day, Adriel was almost surely in her favourite tree, reclined against its trunk with legs stretched across the largest branch. She would watch the sky and the birds that owned it, longing to fly with them. Life was good, but she always felt slightly let down by its monotony. Where was the magic? Where was the adventure?
When her sixteenth birthday came, she was absent from her own party as she considered these things. Her parents found her sitting in the tree, eyes shut and humming lightly.
"Come on down, Adie. Do you know what day it is?" her father inquired happily.
"It's my sixteenth Birthday, Dad," she replied with a grin. "It's a multiple of my favourite number, you know."
"Well your guests are waiting and you are being rude," her mother said curtly before turning back to the house.
Adriel jumped onto a lower branch and then took a giant leap to the ground. Her father shook his head in dismay. She was a wild child, quite unlike anyone else he knew. After tying her hair into a messy bun she nodded to her father and followed him into the house. A few of the neighbours were there, as well as some of the children her age. She had never been able to connect with any of them and they were clearly sulking about being dragged to the party.
After a few superficial pleasantries and thank-yous, and then hamburgers and potato chips, Adriel's favourite part of her birthday arrived. Her father brought out a round white cake with little pink flowers made of frosting. There were 16 lit candles arranged around the perimiter of the cake and they were divided into two distinct groups of eight.
She looked up at her dad with a smile at this small indication that he had remembered her lucky number. He winked at her. Eyes closed tightly, she blew out her candles in one go, thinking fervently I wish magic existed. It had never worked in years past, but it was worth a shot.
Everyone had started to sing around her, even the sulky teens in the corner. All apart from one boy, who watched her intently with a dark shimmering in his eyes. He seemed very concerned, but she quickly cast him from her mind.
Gifts were opened and the guests began to leave soon after. Adriel received a stern look from her mother and took the cue to politely thank each group and walk them to the door. When her mother and father left to clean up the kitchen, she was alone in the room with only one person. The strange boy from earlier was standing near a corner, still scrutinizing her intently. He epitomized "tall, dark, and handsome" but looked rather mean.
The boy beckoned to her and she walked over.
"Hello, there is no rush but all of the other guests have --" she began.
"I won't be here long," the boy interrupted. "I just have a quick question. Surely, you can humour me?"
"Yeah, whatever you'd like," Adriel replied cautiously.
"How did you put out your candles?"
"What? I blew them out, of course."
"No, you didn't. They went out right as you were starting to blow on them. They all went out as once and the flames never flickered."
"Maybe it was a draft, I don't know," Adriel defended, mildly irritated.
"I said the flames never flickered. Well, clearly you have no idea what's going on so I will just see you later." With that he turned on his heel to leave.
"Don't count on it," she muttered darkly.
"Oh, believe me, you will," he said over his shoulder, flashing a genuine smile before leaving the house.
Despite the oddity of that conversation, Adriel found herself grinning as she went into the kitchen to help her parents. Her mother raised her eyebrows.
"What are you so happy about?" she demanded.
"Don't you know? She likes that dark haired kid. You used to smile at me that way," her father reminisced, with a hint of sadness in his voice. "Anyway, Adie, we got you a present."
Adriel smiled, although she highly doubted that her mother had played a role in the choosing of this gift. He pulled out a small box wrapped in blue paper with a small silver bow and handed it to her excitedly.
"Go on, open it!"
She undid the paper delicately and opened the small red box underneath. Within the box was a lovely silver band with an intricate pattern carved into both sides. It flowed and swirled, almost like waves with a mind of their own. Her dad smiled wide as she gasped and slipped the ring onto her right hand. She jumped up to hug him tightly and land a small kiss on his cheek.
"Thanks, Dad. It's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen."
"It's so you will always remember us, no matter what happens. You're leaving for college soon and --"
"In two years, Dad!"
"Yes, well, that's too soon. Just hold on to it for me, OK?"
Her mother cursed loudly. Water sprayed up at her from the faucet with a sudden increase in pressure. She continued to curse about the condition of the house after shutting the faucet off. Adriel's father simply shrugged.
Nightfall was approaching and Adriel left to sit up in her tree and watch the sunset. As she walked out towards the forest, her mind was lost in another world. She was far from the house and exchanging blows in a fast-paced sword fight when a large tearing noise broke the silence.
Adriel nearly jumped out of her skin when she turned around. For a moment, she was entirely sure that her imagination had bested her. In a way, it seemed as though imagination now controlled her, instead of the other way around. She took a step backwards cautiously.
The woman standing in front of her would have looked impressive if she did not look so ridiculous. This concept didn't make much sense to Adriel, even as she thought it, but the description aptly fit the stranger's appearance. She was tall and slender with bobbed brown hair and hazel eyes. There was no way she could be a day younger than forty. She wore a tight red dress that reached down to her knees with slits on the outside that began at the hips. Underneath were what looked like gold spandex shorts. The dress had short sleeves and a V-shaped neck. The sleeves were emblazoned with some sort of gold serpent. All of it was thoroughly strange and confusing.
The woman put her hands on her hips and studied Adriel with a stern look. Whether or not she was happy with what she saw was impossible to tell. Adriel got the distinct feeling that the woman had no sense of humour.
"I suppose you are Adriel?" she asked, now seeming distinctly unimpressed.
"Yes, ma'am," came the quiet reply. It seemed like a good idea not to ask many questions.
"Garan sent me to see to you. Now, you would not know this, but he has been around you quite a bit for the last couple of years. From what he has told me, you are a little too airheaded to notice such things. See, he had to keep an eye on you but it was not his only assignment, to be sure. No, this is not particularly important. I daresay you may have remained here much longer without notice, but he took a liking to you. He has much more important things to tend to, of course, but he wanted to make sure you were handled. After your little cake escapade, he was ever so excited. I daresay he hopes you lean towards fire, but of course, it is always this way in the beginning. It will be interesting to find out, as always."
She said all of this with an air of authority, as if she were talking to somebody else. Now she looked sternly at Adriel again, as if waiting for a reply.
"Oh, yes, my name is Ms. Darlten. You may refer to me by that name."
"Honestly," Adriel began slowly, "I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Did Garan tell you nothing? Well, I do not suppose he would. See, child, you do not belong here. I come from somewhere else, somewhere very close to here in distance but impossible to find. Do you see what I am saying?"
"You come from another world."
"That is correct. In my world, people are different. Not everyone is, but some are. On very rare occasion, this can happen on Earth. There are countless worlds out there, but for as long as we can remember, our world and yours have been linked. It is not difficult for us to come here, and so we can only assume that interbreeding has left your world with people like us. Like I said, though, it is extremely rare. It has not happened in many years."
"What can your people do?" Adriel asked, enthralled despite the practical portion of her mind that screamed about how ridiculous the whole situation was.
"Why, we can manipulate the elements, of course. And Garan thinks you can, as well."
"The candles," she said, but it was not a question.
"Yes," Ms. Darlten replied with her first smile. "Are you ready to find out?"
Before Adriel could reply, she had to jump back suddenly because a fire had appeared on the ground in front of her. It roared to life and rose to her height. She took a step back and the fire surged forward. Ms. Dralten was clearly controlling it, but it seemed to require no exertion or movement on her part. Adriel backed up again.
"What are you doing?"
There was no reply. The fire simmered in place for a moment before spreading wider and splitting into two. It was consuming the grass and leaving only dirt and ash in its place. That was Adriel's last thought before both fires suddenly flew at her. She did not have time to move or yell, but some part of her was acutely aware of the damage those fires could cause. Right as they were about to hit her, however, they went out completely. She fell to her knees and took a deep breath, making every effort to calm her nerves.
"Very nice. Clearly he was right. He has an extraordinary eye, that one. Well, you are just going to have to come with me."
"Wait a second. You just tried to kill me. What are you playing at? I'm not going anywhere," Adriel said stubbornly.
"I would not have killed you. You stopped it! That is what matters. You put out the fire. You never would have been able to do that just by trying. The abilties you have require you to get the proper training. It is time for you to go to a new school. Do not worry, you will be able to come back one day."
"Can my dad come?"
"Of course he cannot. What a ludicrous concept. Calm yourself down. You must leave because it is not safe for you to be here. These are not my rules. Do you not see it?"
Adriel's eyes followed where Darlten was looking. Over her left shoulder was a small light that looked exactly like a miniature solar eclipse.
"What is it?" Adriel asked urgently.
"It is you, splitting from yourself. For the time being, you cannot stay here. It is a balance issue, you see. Now that you know who you are, you can can cause an imbalance in this world. It is very complicated, but you will learn about it in school. Your world is rejecting you, Adriel, and ours is pulling you. However, things are never that easy, and you will not remain whole if you stay here. Stop being childish and come along. It is nearly nighttime."
"My world is rejecting me? I don't understand. Why can't I say goodbye to my dad?"
"Really, child, I am sorry. I know this seems crazy and rushed, but we have to leave. I have much to explain to you on our journey, once we get to my other world. At least go there with me and hear what I have to say. Afterwards, you can choose to come back if you wish."
Perhaps it was because Adriel was very confused and afraid of the little orb or perhaps it was because she finally faced the adventure she always yearned for, but with a muttered apology for her father, she looked up at the woman and nodded in affirmation.
Ms. Darlten raised her hand and ran a finger downwards through the air. That horrible tearing noise resounded and a gap opened up. It was as if her world was coming apart at the seams. The edges looked like burnt parchment and through the slit Adriel could see a strange new world. At the woman's urging, she stepped through the rip and found herself in the wilderness of a strange new land. The time was the same here - mere minutes past nightfall. Adriel noted, however, with a glance at the two bright moons in the sky, that there were very few other similarities.