The grass of this world was a strange texture, with each individual blade reaching up like little arms, stalks of green with six leaves fanned out at the end. There was a forest in the distance, comprised of very tall and straight trees with balls of leaves concentrated only near the top. They were in a flat valley, nestled between low mountains. Adriel could not see over the next hill. Her head was swimming painfully.
"Welcome," the lady said, seeming much more at ease than she was moments ago. The orb had disappeared completely.
"What do you call it?" Adriel asked, wondering where exactly she was being welcomed to.
"Call it? Dear, it is home. Why would we name it?"
Adriel just shrugged. She suddenly felt very heavy and had no desire to trek through this strange new world and discuss the mystical little orb of doom or her fantastic new ability to automatically put out birthday candles. It all seemed so ridiculous.
Darlten said nothing and beckoned for Adriel to follow. They walked towards the crest of a low hill in complete silence. Their faces told tales of boredom. Adriel thought vaguely about how nice it would be to have someone who made the whole process seem more exciting.
Half an hour passed and the landscape had not changed apart from the slow switch to an uphill climb. They reached the crest of the small hill only to find more flatland beyond. From the higher elevation the sky looked fantastic. There was one large moon, which took up at least four times the amount of sky that Earth's moon did. It was massive and bright, casting an eery white glow over the land. The other moon was only slightly smaller than Earth's and was currently floating very close to its sister. Adriel stared up in awe.
"Beautiful, are they not? They are both similar in size, but one is much further away. Legend tells us that one moon is closer because a powerful group of earth witches pulled it near in a time of perpetual night, in order to restore light to the planet. They are a source of hope for many people," Ms. Darlten said affectionately. She seemed soft and vunerable for the first time.
"This is all so strange," Adriel confessed. "And frightening, too."
"I know. I was probably not the best person to bring you here," she said uncomfortably, seeming much kinder than she had before. "I can explain everything, though. We will take the river, hidden just beyond that forest over there, and I will answer all of your questions. The journey will take us through the night and into a port city named Sivil. There, Garan will pick you up and bring you to Waike Academy."
"What is Waike Academy?"
"School, for people like us. It is the only one in the world, so it is often referred to as just 'The School' or 'Waike'. You are going to love it. Come on, now. We will talk freely once we are on the river."
The river was quite unlike any other Adriel had seen. It was as clear as crystal with fine white sand lining the bottom. There were no plants or fish. It flowed so delicately that it seemed an endless gleaming pane of glass.
"Water witches created this. We and the land shape each other, with the utmost respect. It is here for travel. You will see real rivers soon enough. Go ahead, you can touch it. I need to make a boat."
Adriel walked over to the bank and dipped a hand in the cool water. The ripples obscured the reflection of the massive moon, making it seem as if it were being tugged closer to the planet at that very second. She began to lose herself in its waters. She wondered if this was how Narcissus felt as he stared at his own refletion in the water. Perhaps it wasn't his reflection that he was looking at after all, she thought. Maybe it was the sky.
A loud crash resounded suddenly, accompanied with the smell of burning. Adriel whipped her head around to find the source of the noise. Darlten had burned through the base of an enormous tree and it was now lying on its side sadly. Adriel felt a strange pang of regret for it.
"Sorry, I should have warned you," Ms. Darlten called over her shoulder. "This is common practice for travelling. Come over."
Adriel joined her and looked at the tree's base with amazement. It was charred black where it had been burned but the cut was made with surgeon-like precision.
"Now, I will show you some of what fire can do. The trees here are perfect for very long, thin boats. As you might be able to tell, we will just barely manage to fit our width inside it. However, I will make it long enough for you to lay down and sleep. It is critical that I form it with great precision or we will not fit. There is no room for error. Watch as I cut it down to size."
Adriel followed her into the forest to move further up the length of the tree.
"Here, this is long enough," she said. She held her hands out in the direction of the tree and made another straight cut. "The difficult part is next. I must carve this section of trunk into a boat. Can you guess why that will be a challenge?"
Adriel shook her head. She didn't have the slightest idea.
"Well, think about the different elements. Forget about metal - that one is odd and we will discuss it later. Earth, air, water, and fire. Can you think of how they are different?"
Adriel shook her head again.
"Okay, imagine this. In front of you are the four elements: a pile of earth, a bucket of water, a container of air, and a smoldering fire. Which one troubles you the most?"
"The fire," Adriel replied immediately. "It could burn down the forest."
"Precisely. The other elements simply sit in place and wait to be used, but fire has a mind of its own. Part of what makes fire manipulation so difficult is balancing the will of the fire and the will of the witch. Fire desires nothing more than complete destruction. To counter that requires intense concentration and years of practice. So, while I do this, I am going to need to you stay completely silent. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," Adriel replied, now thoroughly fascinated by this strange world. For the time being, her home and family were missing from her mind.
Ms. Darlten sat on the forest floor, legs crossed and palms raised towards the log. She stared intently at the wood as a fire formed. It surged up with power. At first, it seemed to Adriel that the fire was out of control and consuming the entire length. However, when the flame subsided mere seconds later, she saw the mistake in her judgment. There was now a beautiful black ship in its place, not unlike a fancy canoe. It was long and gracefully curved, charred black all over, with high walls and an intricate serpent poised at the bow.
"Do you like it?" the witch asked proudly.
"It's beautiful. How did you do it so quickly?" responded Adriel with great enthusiam.
"Practice, that is all. Come, help me dust off the ash inside. Grab some leaves, over there."
"What is the serpent?" Adriel asked, as they tipped the canoe on its side and began to brush out the ash with the tree's strange bushy leaves.
"The serpent," Darlten swelled proudly, "is our symbol. The symbol for fire witches."
Darlten pointed at the gold serpent on the sleeves of her dress. Adriel began to feel out of place in her khaki shorts and tank top. She was now envious of the outfit that she once found so ridiculous. They continued to remove the ash in silence.
"It is all finished. Let us get it into the water and get moving. Come, now," she beckoned, pushing the canoe into the water with a splash. "You get in first, then I will jump in. As soon as I let go, it will start flowing. Sit at the back."
Adriel followed her request and got into the back of the ship. It was much more steady than she had imagined and relatively comfortable - for wood, at least. The woman jumped into the front and the boat began to travel down the river. It left a black stream of ash in the water that obscured the moons' reflections, which looked to Adriel as if a dark army was marching across them. Darlten watched her intently.
"I must admit, our world is nicer than yours," she said. This stung Adriel, which must have been apparent because she quickly added "but I only think that because it is my home."
"Well, I suppose I have a lot to explain to you. I saw you show an interest in elemental manipulation, so we will start there. Is that fair?"
"Yeah, I'd like that," Adriel said quietly.
"First are the basics. In this world there are many people and most of them are like your humans on Earth. Some, however, are born witches. Do not get stuck on your idea of what a witch is, because the term has very different connotations here. Anyone - male or female - can be born a witch. It is very common for witches to be born from non-witch parents. It is actually less common for witches to have witch children, but every parent can pass on the trait to just one child. It is a strange gift that has always been around, but we do not fully understand it.
"At first, a witch shows no sign of their powers. As they grow older, the power begins to bloom in them. That power can completely take over the witch if it is not controlled early enough. This often will not happen until adulthood, but for that reason, among others, we start training at sixteen.
"Now, the elements must adhere to strict rules. These cannot be broken. Air, water, earth, and metal are all matter. Therefore, they can neither be created nor destroyed. The witch can only manipulate those elements. Fire is energy and can be both created and destroyed, which gives it a unique rule. It must destroy in order to grow, meaning that it must consume and burn up fuel like paper or wood. Do you have any questions about this?"
"No, that makes sense. But what can all of the elements do? What makes them so helpful?" Adriel inquired, now intensely curious about which element she would be able to manipulate.
"I thought you might want to know more about that. There is a friendly rivalry between all of the elements. Every witch thinks that they have the best one, but each has its own advantages and drawbacks.
"Air is by far the most fluid element. It can travel almost anywhere and be manipulated into any shape. By shifting large amounts of air, the witch can push almost anything and even alter the weather. Though air can sting and cut, it is not very useful in defense. With enough training, however, the witch can learn to manipulate the air enough in order to fly.
"As far as fluidity is concerned, water is next in line. It can change into any shape, but the molecules that comprise it are too close together to allow for water to seep through the smallest of spaces. It is more powerful than air but also harder to find, as air is everywhere but water is not. Water witches have the unique ability to breathe underwater. I do not know how they do it - genetics, perhaps. They guard the secret closely.
"Next is earth. It is not fluid at all. It varies greatly depending on the region and how deep the witch pulls. Earth has the most defensive capabilites and is very powerful. A wall of stone does a great deal to protect its caster. A boulder dropped on the head of an enemy is extremly painful. Earth is almost everywhere, which makes it very hard to escape a talented earth witch.
"Now we have fire. This, as you know, is my element. Fire is not fluid. It can only move as long as it is burning in its path. It cannot travel through the air without a path. It has a mind of its own and is difficult to control. It has the best offensive capabilites, but no defensive ones. Sure, you can use offense as defense by creating, say, a wall of fire. But inherently, fire destroys. It never protects.
"Finally, there is metal. This element is the strangest of all. Air, water, earth, and fire witches have been around since as long as we have kept history. Metal witches appeared at random. The ability is very rare. They hide away in their fortresses and share their secrets with no one. Somehow, they can mold metal. They can turn the metal into fluid and then back to solid, molding it into any shape they choose. Never, ever fight a metal witch if you can avoid it.
"Now, that is all of them. Any questions?"
Adriel paused for a moment, overwhelmed by the mass of information. "So, we get to choose which element we use?"
"No, no. The element that you can control is as much a part of you as your personality or your eye color. It cannot be changed. The element chooses you before you are born."
"That means I am fire. Because I put out your fire, right?" Adriel asked cautiously, mildly disappointed that discovering her element had been so anticlimatic.
"Not at all. I told you that Garan was hoping for that, but I also said it was foolish of him to do so. After all, when he first discoverd his powers it was by inadvertently manipulating water. This is interesting because water douses fire and he is a fire witch."
"How is that possible?"
"See, before you discover your powers, they are aching to be set free. The longer they ache, the more powerful they become. Eventually, they could take over the witch and destroy them completely. The power that your given element is exerting within you does not discriminate. It aches to affect an element, any element, in order to try and break free. That is what happened to your candles. If you think back on it, there may have been other cases in which you accidentally affected an element. Since I was sent to test you, it stands to reason that my test would use fire. The fact that you put out the fire does not make you a fire witch. In fact, you don't seem like much of a fire personality at all."
"I don't? What do I seem like?" Adriel asked eagerly.
"It is not that obvious, so don't get excited. I have a knack for these things, but I have been wrong many times before. I will not tell you a thing. It will be more exciting for you to find out with your peers," Ms. Darlten said sternly.
Adriel furrowed her brow. She desperately wanted to know, but it was clear that Darlten would have nothing to do with it.
"I am surprised you have not asked about your home," she said now, watching Adriel impassively. "Do you not want to know why you had to leave?"
Adriel felt a pang of guilt for forgetting. A small part of her had assumed that time would not pass back home while she was away. Deep down she knew this was wrong. Her parents would have called the police by now. Her disappearance would destroy her father. She nodded at Darlten, unable to speak.
"I told you that you are a rare case. Witches do not get discovered on Earth very often. Some exist and are consumed by their powers. Even less are found before suffering this fate. In a way, you are one of the lucky ones. You will get to see your family again. If you were not here, you would have perished, one way or another."
"Why?" Adriel asked.
"Remember how I told you that a witch's power will build and build until the witch is consumed by it - controlled by it? This is what happens to a witch who never uses her powers intentionally. When you put out those candles, it was not intentional. However, an entirely different fate awaits the witch who uses her powers knowingly in another world.
"Think back to when I tested you. Once you thought you were about to be consumed by flame, you used your powers to put them out. It was not a conscious decision. Your subconscious took control of the situation. However, the power does not discriminate between conscious and subconsious. At that moment, there was a union between power and mind. You were changed forever.
"I know it is a strange concept, but you must try to understand. A witch does not truly exist until this union is formed. Once you began to exist, it was as if you were created from nothing. You set off an alarm in your world. It was a kind of paradox. You began to exist but you could not possibly exist within the confines of your world. At the same moment, your world forgot that you ever existed as Adriel of flesh and blood, as Adriel without power. And our world became aware that it was missing a part of itself : you.
"Your world began to reject you because you could not possibly exist. This world began to pull at you, sensing that you existed elsewhere and were therefore missing. Worlds have their own strange way of enforcing their natural laws. It is almost as if they are conscious.
"So, while your world tried to remove your unnatural existence, this world was pulling at you in an attempt to become whole again. For some reason, however, this is not an acceptable way to travel between our two worlds. That little orb was trying to suck you in and your world was happily allowing you to be taken. But if it had continued, you would not have ended up here. I do not know exactly where you would have gone, but it is some middle-land. It is likely full of nothingness. Do you see why you could no longer stay?"
"Yes," Adriel choked. Hearing that there was no easy solution and that her world was rejecting her was all hard to take. "But, how did you...?"
"How did I go to your world? Well, nobody understands it completely. To begin with, the world somehow knows that we existed before we came to Earth, elsewhere. It is not as shocking because we did not begin to exist from nothing."
"So, I could go back now?" Adriel asked excitedly.
"No, it is not that simple. It requires training to visit Earth. We have classes on it. You need to have a certain willpower to exist there. We also have ways of tricking the worlds into accepting our displacement. You cannot go back now, but you will have your chance later."
"Later? How will I explain it to them? I'm guessing I can't walk up and say 'Sorry, Dad, I'm a witch.'"
"No, you certainly cannot," she said severely. "Sometime soon we will introduce you to Brigette. She will explain how she dealt with her family and the displacement. She was the last person to be in your position. Back then, society was much less forgiving of women who went missing and showed up later. You will have it easy in comparison."
"Back then?" Adriel asked, suddenly confused.
"Brigette is in her nineties. I told you that your situation is uncommon," Ms. Darlten added.
"You said it happens every few years. You didn't say anything about decades!"
"Calm down. What does it matter?"
Adriel was not sure why it did matter to her, so she said nothing. She simply laid down in the boat and tried to get to sleep. Ms. Darlten said nothing more and Adriel soon drifted into vibrant dreams.
It was early in the morning when Darlten nudged her awake. She said nothing, but pointed to the front of the boat. Adriel sat up sleepily and gazed in wonder at the approaching city.
It was built along a vast ocean, which the river was quickly approaching. The ocean had none of the stillness of the artificial river. It was thrashing against the docks and the ships resting there, a brilliant dark turqouise with white foam. All of the ships were elegant and wooden, as were the docks. The city itself was huge but hidden by a massive stone wall.
"This is Sivil," Ms. Darlten said, waving a hand in the city's direction. "We will float right into the harbor and you will get a better look."
Once they were closer to the city. Darlten shouted out to one of the uniformed men standing on the dock. He had light blond hair and was wearing a blue uniform. He lifted his arms and began to use the water to guide them into the harbor and away from open sea. It was clear that this required intense concentration.
When they rounded into the docks, the wall ended and Adriel could see Sivil clearly. It looked much like the wall itself: large stone houses and cobblestone streets. It seemed as though it had been built piecemeal, with additions being squeezed in wherever they would fit. It was wonderfully disorganized and bustling with life.
Adriel was so taken with the city that she did not notice when they came to a stop. Ms. Darlten was already out of the boat and calling her name. Adriel pulled her eyes from the sight and jumped.
"Morning, Adriel. Give me your hand," said the mysterious man from her party as he reached out to help her from the ship.
He looked striking in a neat black and crimson uniform. His dark eyes sparkled with hidden amusement. Adriel took his hand and her heart fluttered rapidly. She had never been calm around attractive boys, and he was no boy. He looked close to twenty, both developed and mature.
He pulled her out of the boat and onto the dock. "Hello, Adriel. My name is Garan," he said, shaking her hand formally.
"Nice to meet you," she replied with feigned but convincing confidence.
"I told you I'd be seeing you soon," he said with a wink.