Chapter One: Seeds of Doubt
Darkness invades my slumber, fighting its way into my dreams.
I don’t know where I am, nothing is recognizable. A barren field is all that surrounds me, with no signs of civilization anywhere in sight.
A wave of shadow makes its way towards me, flooding, crashing.
I can’t move; my feet are stuck to the ground. The wave comes closer, closer, closer.
I’m floating, submerged, drowning.
The shadows wrap around me, constricting me, I can’t breathe.
I try to get to the surface, kicking, trying to push away the shadows, but I can’t.
My chest burns for air, I don’t know where I am.
My head feels heavy, I start to lose feeling in my fingertips.
I wrap my arms around my shoulders.
I shut my eyes.
The world fades away.
I wake up in a cold sweat; the memory of the shadows still around me. My hands tightly clutch my shoulders, my nails digging into my skin. I take a deep breath as my mind shifts to reality.
You’re safe. You’re in your room. Everything is okay.
I take a deep breath, grounding myself.
I shift under the soft, thick covers of my bed, adjusting my head to a different part of the pillow, trying to get comfortable enough to fall back to sleep for just a little longer. My eyes feel heavy, like my eyelashes are made of lead, weighing me down, coercing me to stay asleep.
I can’t get comfortable. Ugh.
Much to the disdain of my half-asleep body, I force my eyes open and look over at the small digital clock that rests on my nightstand. 9:07. What was I planning to do today? I don’t remember, my mind is still foggy from being pulled out of sleep earlier than it wanted to be, not to mention the fear still buzzing in the back of my head. I think I was going to do something with Katya, my roommate. It can’t be that important, I suppose. But now that I’m actually awake I might as well face the day head on.
I groan and pull the covers off my body, and a wave of chills passes over me, my body shivering in response.
I naturally run cold already, something about low blood pressure or what not. I think it’s genetic. Regardless, my body doesn’t appreciate the sudden pull to reality.
I roll to a sitting position and stand up next to my bed, feeling a slight twinge of dizziness before I adjust to being vertical.
I mosey over to the small closet in my room, pulling out a red cropped hoodie and a pair of black leggings. I’m not sure how cold it’s supposed to be today, but it has been getting warmer over the past few days, so I might be too hot in leggings. Nonetheless, I need something a little warmer at the moment. I decide I can change later if I need to.
I glance around my room as I change out of my night clothes. The walls are a light beige colour, with black curtains that cover the large window next to my bed. They don’t do much to block out the light, but it’s nice that they offer privacy. On the other wall is a small wooden vanity with a mirror, with multiple tubes and containers of makeup strewn across it in no particular fashion. I need to clean that thing soon.
Next to my bed is a small nightstand with the aforementioned digital clock and a lamp, with a few personal trinkets in one corner to act as decoration. One of which is a small photograph of me and my best friend, Coburn, at the beach from three years ago; I was sixteen at the time.
It’s not much, but it’s everything I need right now.
I move in front of the large circular mirror, bright green eyes staring back at me, complimenting my paler complexion and defined eyebrows. Baby hairs line the top of my forehead, with a few cascading down the sides of my head, framing my jawline. I don’t know if I’d call myself attractive, but generally speaking, I like how I look.
My hair is another story. I have a love-hate relationship with it that can turn on a dime at any moment. I love the dark auburn colour, but that’s about the only consistent thing about it. One day, my curls could fall into place perfectly, and another day it looks like I spent a week in the woods. I sometimes straighten it, but I’ve been trying to appreciate the curly texture more in recent months. However, today is one of those days where it does not look all that great.
Probably because I went to bed last night while it was still damp.
I sigh and pull it into a bun on top of my head, placing a few pins into my hair to keep some kind of shape. I play with it for a several minutes before deciding I can fix it later if I need to. Today is just one of those days where my hair won’t behave no matter how hard I try.
I slowly open the door and move down the hallway to the kitchen at a leisurely pace, feeling the occasional floorboard creak under my feet. The hallway sports light wooden floorboards and cream coloured walls with a few decorations hung up on the walls – mostly Katya’s flower pressings that she’s framed. My favourite one (she’s done up to this point) is a lily that hangs proudly next to my room. The colour has faded to almost white and a few of the petals have started to discolour, but I still love it’s whimsical nature ; it never fails to make me smile.
I come around the corner into the kitchen, where the smell of coffee welcomes me. Coffee can be a tough thing to get a hold of these days, with shortages and all. Shipments from the outside world come in every month or so, carrying different things we can’t get access to here, coffee being one of the hot commodities. I savour it whenever we have it and try to make it last as long as I can. I can usually make it last a decently long time, about two weeks or so. They don’t come in very large containers, unfortunately.
We get monthly shipments from the outside world of nonessentials we can’t produce ourselves – like coffee – but makeup, some clothing, and other things are included too. Requests are made two weeks in advance and everything gets shipped to us on the first day of each month. The system is set up so you can only get a limited number of each item per household so that everyone can have what they need to live comfortably. For example, Katya and I are a small household, so we’re only allowed one, two pound bag of coffee for the month. Katya tries to swipe my makeup sometimes, so sometimes when we get different items shipped I have to make sure I get what’s mine.
The kitchen is small, but still has a lot of space and feels open. A countertop stretches from one wall to the other, wrapping around one corner. The rest of the space is taken up by a large island that seats two, with high chairs that meet the counter. The counter is a gray marble colour, but I’m not well versed enough in kitchens and interior design to know what kind of countertop it is. It’s glossy, reflecting the light coming from a square light fixture in the centre of the area. The rest of the kitchen is made up of black cupboards above and below the counter, and make up the base of the island; it does a fantastic job of hiding a small wine cooler in the island from unsuspecting eyes. Alcohol is another thing that is a bit rare, so Katya and I save the few bottles we have for special occasions.
I look over at the island and see Katya taking up one seat with her tea; she’s been trying out new ones, I think this one is a variation on Earl Gray or something. Her short, cool toned blonde hair is straightened to perfection, falling a little past her shoulders. Her large, expressive blue eyes are lined on top with a wing flicking out past her eye and a thick coat of mascara to make her eyes stand out. She wears a dark top and pants, paired with a large, royal blue cardigan that covers much of her body.
The other seat is taken by Coburn, who I was not expecting to see this morning. Despite being my best friend, I don’t see him very often anymore since he’s always so busy. Even so, we essentially grew up together; it’s hard to imagine my life without him. His dark hair is shorter on the sides and longer on top, which he’s styled with some kind of gel. His light olive skin tone is complimented by dark brown eyes and thicker eyebrows, which are slightly darker than his hair. He wears a basic black shirt with three quarter sleeves that come down just past his elbow.
“Hey, Sparks!” He says with a chipper tone.
I chuckle softy before opening the cupboard to get a mug. My real name is Saffire, but Coburn calls me Sparks because I sometimes have sparks shoot out of my fingertips, especially when I feel intense or passionate about something.
Which is a lot.
“Good morning,” I say with a small smile as I pour my coffee into the mug, leaning against the counter.
I take a small sip, savouring the bitterness and the earthy tones, closing my eyes for a brief moment before bringing my attention back to the room.
“So, Spirit of Water, to what do we owe the pleasure?” I ask as eloquently as I can without laughing.
He chuckles dryly, looking down.
“Skip the titles, Sparks. I never liked them anyways.”
Coburn is one of the primary protectors of our world as we know it, which is why he’s so busy. To break it down quickly, everyone in our world has elemental powers of some kind along with the blessing of a long life. As I understand it, our society is isolated from the rest of the human world because of our elemental abilities that we’re born with. I think the reason why we have abilities has something to do with natural disasters that happened about 100 years ago, but I don’t know too much about it. This is the only world I’ve known my entire life: a peaceful, simple way of life.
Regardless, each of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, has one representative to act as leaders and protect our world from – well – I’m not exactly sure what. Coburn has mentioned it a few times, but I don’t think he likes talking about it. Something to do with Shadows and a dark version of our world. So, Coburn wields water and was chosen as an elemental leader about three years ago, hence his official title, ‘Spirit of Water’. He was chosen shortly after the picture on my nightstand was taken now that I think about it.
All the protectors are chosen by Luna; she’s been around for a long time and is the only person who can heal and wield the fifth element, Ether. Because of that, she’s kind of been dubbed over the years as our Doyenne, or leader of sorts. We all look to her for guidance since she’s so highly respected for her powerset.
“Okay, okay. So, what’s up?” I say as I take another sip of coffee, feeling more alert in the conversation.
He takes a deep breath and shifts in the chair before continuing.
“Bad news or good news first?” He winks.
I look over at Katya, who has her elbow propped up on the counter, leaning her head on her hand, listening closely. My thinking has always been to go with bad news first; I find you remember the positive things more that way.
“Bad news, I guess?” I say slowly as he nods.
Where is this going?
“Okay, you two know Ryker right?”
Ryker is the current the Spirit of Fire. I’ve never formally met him, but he seemed nice from the few times I had seen him in passing. His eyes were an interesting shade of blue, like the bottom of the ocean. I don’t think he knows who I am though.
“Yeah, what about him?” I say, raising an eyebrow.
Coburn sighs and takes another deep breath.
“He came back from his assignment yesterday hurt pretty bad. He passed away sometime in the night.”
A pit suddenly forms in my stomach as the information sinks in.
It’s uncommon for one of the elemental leaders to die, and when it does happen it’s usually a big deal, and a new leader for that element needs to be chosen right away. I didn’t know him very well, but I still feel a twinge of sadness at his passing.
Katya chokes on her tea and her cup lands on the counter with force.
“What? How?” She covers her mouth with her hands and a small chuckle escapes my lips at her reaction.
Coburn looks down.
“I don’t really know. Luna tried to heal him as best she could, but it was no use.” He puts his elbows on the counter and puts his forehead in his hands.
I should say something. I know he would if I were in his shoes.
“I’m sorry,” I say softly.
He gives me a warm smile before continuing.
“It’s okay,” he pauses for a moment, like he’s ruminating in his thoughts.
I wonder what’s going through his head, or what had to happen to Ryker for him to pass away. I didn’t know much about him, but I knew he was strong; if something hurt him bad enough to take him out, it wasn’t a good sign.
“So what’s the good news?” Katya pulls me from my thoughts and back to reality.
I shake my head a little.
“Okay, so I’m not sure if I’m supposed to know this, so don’t say anything –”
“Just tell us!” Katya loudly interrupts.
I chuckle softy before he keeps going.
“Anyways, so we need a new person to fill Ryker’s place, and I overheard Luna talking pretty highly of you taking the spot.”
My jaw drops to the floor.
Me? Why me? What do I have to offer? How did my name even come up? I can think of at least 20 other fire wielders that are more deserving than I am, why would Luna even think about choosing me?
“Earth to Saf! Hello?” Katya waves an arm in front of me and I snap out of my thoughts again.
I look over at Coburn, who looks at me hopefully.
I can never stay mad at him, and why would I? He’s just the messenger.
I take a deep breath.
“Sorry,” I shake my head, “what did she say?”
“I didn’t hear the whole conversation, but you seem to be pretty high up on the list. I did hear her say that she’d announce it tomorrow, so be ready for that. I think flyers are going out later.”
“I didn’t think she even knew who I was.”
I don’t remember deciding to say that, but I guess I can’t take it back now.
“You’re one of the few fire wielders,” he reassures, “why wouldn’t she know who you are?”
Fire abilities are extremely rare among our world, I’m not sure why. The most common ability is Earth, which is what Katya has, and they make up about half the population. As I understand, this is because they have the ability to create natural resources, like building materials, which is why everyone has a roof over their head. Of the 10,000 people among us, only about 40 of us have fire abilities – in fact, one of the telltale signs that you’re a fire wielder is having red hair – hence the wild mane on top of my head. Another fun perk of fire abilities includes varying amounts of anxiety, but I think that just has to do with the wilder nature of our abilities.
At least that’s my theory.
“I’ve never thought about it, I guess,” I say quietly.
Coburn gives me a warm smile and takes my hand, feeling warmth radiate through my fingertips.
“If it happens, I’ll be there. I promise.”
I smile as I thank him; his words make me feel better, but I’m not sure how to react. I don’t know how to react to any of this. How am I supposed to feel? Happy? Scared? Terrified? Honoured?
I open my mouth to say something, anything, but no sound comes out. I can’t think of the right words to say. My heart beats out of my chest. I don’t want to be angry with Coburn, he’s just trying to give me forewarning about this, which he knows I appreciate. But I’m not over the moon either.
I don’t want this. I don’t want to be a protector of our world. How did Ryker pass away? What hurt him so bad that he couldn’t make it? It’s nice to know that Luna thinks highly of me, I guess, but what happens if I do get picked? Why would she pick me? It’s not going to happen. It won’t. I’ll be fine. I’ll be able to live out the rest of my life in peace. That’s all I’ve ever wanted anyways. Just a quiet life. I won’t get picked. She won’t pick me. Why would she? Other people are more deserving than me. I know that.
A few sparks shoot out of my fingertips, jolting me back to reality. They fizzle out before they touch the floor; thank God. I take a sip of coffee to try and mask my anxiety.
I can’t tell how successful it is.
“You okay?” Coburn asks slowly; I can hear concern in his voice.
I force a smile and nod.
He gives me a look, suggesting that he doesn’t believe me. I guess he knows me well enough to know when I’m lying. Nonetheless, I don’t want to talk about it right now.
I take another sip of coffee. I’m not sure if it’s helping my anxiety or not, but it’s hiding the deep breaths I’m taking to calm myself down. I don’t like my anxiety being the centre of attention.
“Babes, do you want to come with me for a walk?” Katya pipes up.
I think about it for a moment. Katya’s Earth powers usually had a calming influence on me, and they get amplified when she’s around nature, unsurprisingly.
I nod; it’ll probably do me some good to get outside for a while.
“I should probably go too. The others will be wondering where I went.” Coburn chuckles as he gets up giving me a quick hug before leaving.
I feel some of the tension in me release as he puts his arms around me; he’s so warm.
“Let me know if you need anything,” he says quietly, pulling away.
I nod and he gives me a warm smile.
We say our goodbyes and Katya shuts the door, turning to me emphatically.
“Saf! This is amazing! How are you feeling about it?” She says excitedly, like she’s a reporter for a news channel.
How does she have this much energy in the morning?
“I – er, I’m not sure, honestly,” I say with a small shrug.
She frowns at me for a moment before her smile returns and she tugs at the drawstrings on my hoodie for a second.
“Come on. I’ll be more help to you if we’re outside. Are you ready?”
I clutch my cup, which I miraculously haven’t dropped at all considering the bombshell that got thrown at me. It’s a light blue colour at the top, fading into an indigo at the bottom with a white inside and a wide base. Perfect for holding lots of coffee.
“I’m finishing my coffee first,” I say with a mischievous grin.
She rolls her eyes and laughs.
“All right, coffee snob.”
I stick out my tongue at her for a moment before taking a large sip, feeling the caffeine wake my body up. She takes her cup over to the sink, washing it out before putting it on the drying rack upside down.
She sits on the counter and we make small talk as I finish my drink, mostly talking about the weather and what we were going to wear for the announcement tomorrow. Whoever gets chosen to take Ryker’s place will be told ahead of time and their name will get announced in front of the entire population at a plaza that’s at the heart of the city. Considering it’s a big deal, I don’t think the whole ordeal lasts very long, at least that’s what I’ve heard.
I finish my drink and rinse out my cup, fully awake at this point . . . somehow.
Katya and I exit out the back door of our house, where we live a short walk away from a winding forest park. One of the paths leads to the beach, but I’m more in the mood for a quiet walk among the trees. It is nice to hear the roar of the ocean saying hello every few minutes though.
The park is a common place for Earth wielders like Katya to practice their skills, making the forest path lush and filled with shrubs and flowers in every colour and shape you could think of. The trees tower over us, standing at over 100 meters tall, almost acting like a protective barrier from the outside world. Sunlight filters in through the leaves, filling the space with warmth. This place always makes me feel calmer; it’s so filled with care and good energy that I can’t help but feel at ease. The area smells like grass after a rainstorm: fresh, inviting, sweet.
“Okay, tell me your deepest, darkest, secrets,” Katya says sarcastically.
“I forgot to move my laundry into the dryer?”
She scoffs and lightly pushes me to the side.
“How could you?” She cries dramatically.
She feigns offense and puts the back of her hand to her forehead.
I laugh for a moment at her impression.
“So, tell me what’s going through that head of yours,” she looks at me inquisitively.
I take a deep breath. I’m able to think better now that I’m not as anxious, but I’m still feeling reluctant to talk about the news of the morning.
“I still don’t know, honestly,” I sigh.
“Do you think Luna’s going to pick you?” Katya asks with calm curiosity. I look over at her and raise an eyebrow.
“Why would she? I can think of so many fire wielders off the top of my head that are way stronger than me,” I look down.
“I don’t think that’s the point,” she says softly.
“Then what is?” I snap.
I didn’t mean for that to come across that forceful; I guess my emotions get the best of me sometimes.
I take a deep breath.
“Sorry. You know what I mean,” I say, a wave of calmness rushing over me.
I’m glad Katya suggested coming out here.
“It’s fine. I think the point is that maybe Luna sees something in you. You’re just as good as any fire wielder I know.”
“The only other fire wielder you know is Jaxson.” I say with a chuckle.
“Yeah, well, he’s a prick. I can’t imagine why Luna would choose him,” she says with a laugh.
We pause before I change the subject.
“Do you know Ehren very well?” I ask.
“Just because he’s the leader of my element doesn’t mean I know him well,” she chuckles, “not like you know Coburn, anyways. He seems nice enough from the few times I’ve talked to him though,” she pauses for a moment, “what has Coburn told you about the different assignments he goes on?”
I think back to the conversations we’ve had about it. I usually get the sense it’s not something he likes to talk about, but he’s opened up to me a few times.
“Not a lot, honestly. He doesn’t talk about it much,” I shrug.
“Hm, I wonder why,” Katya contemplates for a few seconds as she adds some blue flowers to the side of the path. Their small, pointed leaves shimmer in the warm sun.
“Maybe he just likes to keep that part of his life separate from everything else. Who knows?” She brushes her fingers through her hair absentmindedly.
From the conversations Coburn and I have had, it sounds like there’s someone the five of them conflict with who can wield shadow. From what Coburn has said, she sounds terrible.
“So, what are you going to do if you do get picked tomorrow?” Katya asks out of the blue. I purse my lips together, thinking for a moment.
“Have a nervous breakdown?” I say lightly.
She gives me a look.
“You know I got you if that happens, but I can tell something’s bugging you about it.”
I take a deep breath and sigh, feeling some of my emotions bubble to the surface.
“I don’t want it to be me,” I say quietly.
“Why?” She asks simply.
I’m about to glare at her for asking, when I realize how loaded the question is for me. I don’t consider myself a leader by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t like the idea of people looking to me, relying on me, or any of that. I don’t like being responsible for leading people astray, or failing people somehow and then having them suffer because of a mistake I made.
“I just don’t want the pressure, I guess. What if I screw something up and then the world falls into darkness because of a mistake I make?”
Katya gives me a reassuring glance.
“I might not know Luna or the others very well, but I know they’re not going to let that happen. If you get chosen, they’ll make sure you’re prepared. They won’t just throw you into a dangerous situation for no reason.”
Her words make me feel better. Maybe she’s right. And besides, who knows if I’ll even get chosen or not?
“I know you’ll be okay no matter what happens, girl,” she adds.
I’ll be okay, I keep thinking to myself. I’ll be okay.
We make small talk on the way back to the house, with Katya practicing her abilities along the pathway, adding more of her blue iridescent flowers among the various species of plants. Her colour choice is a nice deviation from the other colours along the path, predominantly shades of pink, purple, and yellow. They’re still beautiful, but I like what Katya adds.
We walk along the light gray sidewalk that leads to our house where is intersects with one of the busier paths. It’s not even that there’s a lot of things to do in the area we live, but the street next to us is a common way to get to the core of everything, which is nice.
In front of us, I see a man – Jaxson – walking towards us.
His red hair is much brighter than mine, almost orange on top of his head, which is short and stiff with gel. He’s a few inches shorter than Coburn but is much stockier than him; it’s apparent that he skips leg day in favour of more upper body. He wears light washed ripped jeans and a tight black tee shirt, carrying a large backpack with him.
Please don’t say hi. Please don’t say hi.
“Hello, Saffire. Katya,” he says calmly.
“Hey,” I respond without looking at him.
I’ve never felt intimidated by him, but let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a room alone with him.
“I just wanted to say no hard feelings,” he says condescendingly.
I look at him and raise an eyebrow, his dark eyes burning with intensity.
“About what?” I say with a little more force than I intended.
I don’t know if it’s being around other fire wielders or if it’s just him, but I tend to be a little bit jumpier around Jaxson.
“The Spirit of Fire opening. It’s mine for sure,” he remarks, exuding arrogance.
I scoff under by breath and roll my eyes.
“How do you know?” I push.
I probably shouldn’t egg him on, but part of me wants to see where this is going.
“Look at me. I’m the best fire wielder for miles. Luna would be a fool to not choose me.”
I chuckle under my breath.
I can’t believe this guy.
“Okay,” I say sarcastically.
He takes one step closer to me, and I instinctively back away.
“What was that?” He asks forcefully.
“Luna’s never going to pick you,” Katya states bravely, stepping forward.
Jaxson glares at the two of us, narrowing his eyes.
“And why is that?” He asks quietly, but with force.
“Does she know that you’re an arrogant prick?”
The words tumble out of my mouth before I can think about saying them. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, but I guess it’s too late now.
He backs up and beckons me forward.
“Let’s find out who’s stronger right now.” He starts to put his bag down to get ready.
I consider it for a moment – I could probably win in a fight against him, and it would be good to get some practice in.
Then again, maybe not.
Before I’m able to say anything, Katya starts striding past him, and I quickly run to join her as we head in the opposite direction.
“No thanks. See you tomorrow!” I say with the fakest smile I can conjure.
When we’re sufficiently far away from the scene, Katya lightly elbows me in the ribs.
“Girl were you actually thinking about it?”
I look around and give her an innocent smile, watching her fight back a laugh.
“Only for a second,” I say with a chuckle as our house comes into view.
It’s a small, flat topped house with white trim and brown rooftops. An elegant garden with multicoloured flowers and decorations are sprinkled around the front of the house, something of Katya’s doing. Her connection to nature is something I admire about her. I guess it comes with her skillset, but part of me hates that she can create so much beauty out of nothing, whereas my powers can do a lot of damage if I’m not careful.
Elegant vines wrap around the poles that help keep up the house, with small, fuchsia flowers climbing the vine. At the front, lush bushes holding lilacs stand proudly, with decorative rocks in the dirt around the roots. A few hanging baskets dangle near the doorway, with yellow flowers that cascade down the sides and bright blue and white blooms acting as the centrepiece. I love how passionate she is about it all.
She takes out the keys to the house and unlocks the door.
“Forget about Jaxson. He’s just a hothead,” she mutters.
“Who?” I ask jokingly as she rolls her eyes at me with a smile,“I’m joking. I’m not that worried about him, though if Luna chooses him, I’ll have to seriously question her methods.”
She laughs as we walk inside.
The rest of the day passes in a blur. The conversation I had with Katya made me feel much better about the whole situation, but I can’t seem to shake some of my nervousness no matter how hard I try. Thoughts that linger in the back of my mind, making a home there. They cause my heart to beat out of my chest during quiet moments. I play with the drawstrings of my hoodie, never quite seeming to get them level with each other. I fidget and seem to vibrate all afternoon, wondering what will happen tomorrow.
I have to stop myself from letting my thoughts run wild in my head. It’s almost like I have to just ignore that they’re there, ignoring their existence. I know from experience that that can only work for so long, but I tell myself it’s a good short-term solution, at least until tomorrow.
It will all be over tomorrow. You’ll get your answer.
It will be okay.