The Elementalists

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02. Annika

They think I can’t hear them; staring at me and whispering whenever they think I’m not looking. Well, here’s news for them: I have ears, and they function perfectly well, thank you very much. I’ve heard their accusations and know what they think about me. Some call me ‘Annika the Oddball’. Others, ‘Annika the Unhinged.’ Those with less imagination simply dub me ‘Annika the Strange’

That is my name, after all: Annika Strange. I used to live with my parents in this small cottage in the Commons. We were amongst the Bourgeois: the middle class. Some of us were powerful Elementalists, others not so much. My parents fell under the latter category. They were never powerful-power hungry, perhaps-and this made them bitter.

But let’s not get into that now. They’re gone, burnt down with the house. That was a whole year ago, though I relive it the incident every night in my dreams … no, nightmares.

Right now, I’m staying at in “Mrs. Oleanna’s orphanage for underprivileged” It’s a supposedly magnanimous institution which offers a helping hand and a home to abandoned children.

What a farce.

Things around here are even worse than they were back home, and that’s saying something for me. The place is currently run by a Mr. Corpus, and he’s the worst slave driver I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting. And he hates me especially, calling me a little troublemaker and smacking my poor head when no one’s looking.

Child abuse, that’s what this is! Not that I ever whine or cry about that. No, I’m far too strong for that. I just screw up my face and glare at him until he feels uncomfortable. Which doesn’t take too much time because let me tell you, I can be really intimidating when I want to.

Here at the Orphanage, we’re supposed to wake up at three every morning and scrub the vessels from the previous night. And they aren’t very clean vessels either, filled with scraps of leftover food and worms. I suggested that we should probably rinse them out after dinner so they’d be easier to clean. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy.

‘But that would mean working after dinner’ said Sasha.

’And who wants to do that?’ added Marian with a shake of her head.

Yeah … that’s how stupid the people here are.

After this, we do the rest of the chores: just some everyday scrubbing and sweeping. I’m not particularly good at any of that work, but I can start up a roaring fire during the cold months, and, believe me, that’s a very necessary skill around here.

Sometimes I wish I could just burn the place down. I’m sure I could manage it too. See, most people get tell-tale signals of their power only when they’re around twelve or thirteen years old, but me? I’m an early bloomer.

My first encounter with fire was when I was seven. Mum had forgotten to return the matchbox to its shelf when she was done cooking. I picked it up as soon as she left the kitchen. When she returned, there I sat, a small child with two lit matches in my hand, making the fire dance and form patterns.

It was clear that I was a Fire Manipulator. If it wasn’t obvious by the name, that’s what you call people who have the ability to control fire. There are other elements too: Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. But I’m sure you already know all of that. Why, anyone who’s anyone in Volant knows all that!

Except perhaps the Retrograde: they’re basically the powerless; the downtrodden who have no magic. I can’t even imagine what that must be like. Why, I doubt I could get through winter at the orphanage if I had to be solely dependent on the poor fire they keep going. A whole life like that? Good gods, no!

There are other children like me at the orphanage too. Ones with powers, I mean, not supposed oddballs and the like. There’s Corrin: he can control air; not too well, but he can summon up a light breeze every now and then, which I suppose comes in handy during the really, really hot days. But that’s about the extent of his usefulness.

Jessamine is good with water, which isn’t of much use since the only water we ever get at the orphanage is infected with germs and whatnot. Now if the she had been able to disinfect the water, I would have been impressed. Well no, I take that back: I never have been and never will be genuinely impressed by anything Jessamine does.

There’re a few others who had some powers as well, but nothing notable.

But I’m easily the best. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not boasting. It’s true. It’s only been three months since I’ve turned thirteen and I’m already capable of doing quite a lot of things with fire. This is why I am feared by everyone. This, along with the fact that my previous house was burned down, so everyone naturally assumes that I was responsible.

I don’t care what they think; I never have, and I don’t plan on starting anytime soon. Because I’m obviously better than all of them. Better, and smarter. Prettier? Not so much. That’s Jessamine’s forte.

I’m not much to look at, really, with freckles obscuring most of my face and a squashed nose, making it look like someone punched me and my face just stayed that way ever since. I do have long dark hair though, but here, I’m forced to bundle it back all the time, which is just as well since I don’t fancy getting bits of food and dust caught in my hair. My eyes are large and blue, and-if you look really, really closely-they have tiny flecks of grey in them. I’m built thin but somewhat tall, and I can run two miles before tiring.

There’s only one thing I’m looking forward to right now, and that’s the month of August. A couple of weeks ago, I overheard Mrs. Sinn (she’s the inspector around here, and drops by every few months) talking with Mr. Corpus about this School. From what I heard-which was quite a lot, I think-it’s a place where Elementalists (that’s what they call people like me; people who can control the elements) get trained. And you must be at least thirteen years old to join, which is perfect, since I turned thirteen in April.

Well, at least now I know where all those students went last year; I mean, I thought they were being shipped off to a factory or something like that. And that I would be next on the list.

The school is situated in the border between the Commons and the County-that’s where all the rich, spoilt brats live-and it’s a good distance away from the Orphanage. Which means I’ll be staying there during the school year! I can’t wait; only one month to go.

The only drawback is that Jessamine turned thirteen five days ago too, which means she’ll be coming with me.

A brief introduction to Jessamine: she’s an attention seeker and a fake. Everyone thinks she’s just perfect, but I don’t buy it. She’s always smiling, which gets on my nerves, honestly, and never insults anyone. The other day, I accidentally smacked her face with a broomstick, which was unfortunate since she’s allergic to dust and ended up sneezing for three minutes straight (I kept track of it) and all she had to say was, ‘It’s alright, you weren’t to know’

Thing is, I did know. Everyone knew that about her allergy, owing to which she is exempted from dusting duty every Saturday morning and helps with the laundry instead. But I wasn’t thick enough to say that, with the other orphans glaring at me for hurting their poor, perfect Jessamine.

She even looks perfect, with her pinched nose and fair complexion; seriously though, if I was as fair as her, I’m sure I’d be labelled “pale”, but on her it’s just the perfect skin tone. Double standards much?

So, there you have it, an account of my insipid life so far. I just hope it gets better when I go to the school.

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