Advika sat on the edge of the enormous white rock amidst the dense forest. A thick, ancient book clasped in her hands. The book shone as the sunlight fell on its golden cover.
She glanced at her wristwatch and sighed. Always late these guys, she thought.
The leaves scattered on the ground crumpled; she swivelled and saw two of her friends racing towards the rock.
“You can’t beat me,” said Tej and winked as he raced towards the white rock. The sun was overhead; a thin layer of sweat covered the nape of his neck.
“Sure I can,” said his friend, Ray, catching his breath, running alongside his opponent.
“Hey, boys, wait for us,” said Maya adjusting her white cap and crossed her arms. “Leave them, Maya, they always do that,” said her friend, Zarna. “Come, let’s go, Advika is waiting for us.”
The girls strolled towards the rock where Advika was sitting.
“Careful, Tej,” said Advika as he came to a halt at the foot of the rock. “I won,” he said, panting, wiping the sweat off his forehead with his sleeves.
“Okay, okay, you are Tej, the Prince of speed, how can I defeat you?” said his friend as he rested his back against the rock. Tej climbed on the rock and sat beside Advika.
“Hurry up, girls,” said Ray as he climbed up the rock and sat on the other side of Advika.
“Zarna, Maya, climb up, quick,” said Advika. The girls ascended the rock and sat cross-legged beside the boys.
The five friends had gathered in a forest, far from the city, on a Sunday afternoon.
Advika stroke the spine of the book.
The letters on the book moved, rearranging themselves.
‘The Secrets of the Elements,’ it said.
“Okay, Advika,” said Zarna dusting her blue jeans. “The only thing we have learned about this book is that the letters rearrange themselves once you strike its spine.”
“We tried practising all those things written in it,” said Tej.
“No, we did not give it the dedication it needs,” said Advika and opened the book adjusting her cat-eye specks.
The pages of the book shone as the sunlight fell on the words inscribed in blank ink on it. There were images of the five elements, water, fire, earth, air, and sky. Advika turned the pages of the book and stopped at a page.
“It says you need to keep your mind calm and thoughtless,” she said and looked at her friends. “Is that even possible, Adu?” asked Zarna and pursed her thin lips. “Well, if we want those powers, we need to do this,” replied Advika.
Ray touched the symbol of sky inscribed in the book. It glistened as he did. Advika smiled and kept her fingers on the earth symbol. Zarna rubbed her palms and put her forefinger on the water emblem.
Tej shrugged. “Are we doing this again?”
“Yes, we are,” said Maya and grabbed his hand. “Touch the fire.”
Tej let out a sigh and put his finger on the fire symbol; Maya on the air symbol.
The five elements were now glowing; emitting bright white light.
The girls giggled. “Okay, the second thing is that these symbols glow when we touch it,” said Ray.
“Not exactly,” said Advika. She lifted her finger and kept it on the fire symbol. Tej moved his finger to the earth symbol. The light had gone.
“Do you guys think it has something to do with affinity?” asked Zarna. “What do you mean?” quizzed Ray as they withdrew their hands and Advika closed the book. Zarna looked at Advika and pouted.
“According to my study,” began Advika. “Each witch or sorcerer has an affinity, or, a natural drawing towards an element.”
“So, because I have an affinity towards the fire.”
Maya raised her eyebrow at Tej. “Assume I have, that’s the reason the fire symbol glows, only when I touch it,” concluded Tej. “That’s right,” said Advika.
“Okay, so now when we have identified our affinities, what next?” asked Zarna. “Half of the book is still blank,” said Ray.
“Only the first ten pages of the book has something on it,” said Maya as she took the book in her hands. Advika pursed her lips. “What is it? Advika” asked Ray.
“The first five pages talk about the elements. Fire, Water, Air, Sky, and Earth.”
Maya turned the pages as Advika spoke.
“We studied everything we could about the elements. The next five pages are about basic practices of all the elements.”
“We’ve done that,” added Tej.
“It says we need to learn to feel the elements. As per the steps,” said Advika tapping on the page.
“Yes, we have felt the elements,” said Maya.
“Maybe the book isn’t convinced,” said Advika. “What? What do you mean?” asked Ray and adjusted his colourful headband.
“I mean, the pages after the introduction of the elements appeared when we read the first five pages.”
“So, you’re saying that unless the book feels that we’ve done our part, it’ll not reveal the next pages?” wondered Zarna.
Advika nodded her head. “Yes, sounds illogical, but that’s what I feel.”
“So, what do you think? How are we supposed to convince the book?” asked Tej as he folded the sleeves of his shirt. “Convince the book, this is insane,” added Ray.
“I think we’ll redo it,” said Advika and looked at her watch. “Time’s up, we better move,” said Maya. “Okay then, let’s meet next week, same time, the same place,” said Tej and jumped down from the rock. Ray followed. “Wanna race?” asked Tej as he hit Ray’s shoulders.
“Sure,” said Ray and put his right foot forward, bending a little towards the front. “Get, set, go,” said Tej as they raced towards the opening of the forest.
Maya let out a sign as she jumped down. Advika kept the book back on the rock and jumped. Zarna followed. “We must hurry,” she said. “How don’t they get tired?” wondered Maya as they walked towards the opening of the forest. “Boys,” said Zarna rolling her eyes. Advika glanced at her watch again. “Maybe we should run too,” she said and showed them her wristwatch. “Yes, it’s almost four,” said Zarna. The girls picked up the pace.
“I won again,” said Tej as he patted Ray’s shoulders coming to a halt. Ray smiled and raised his hands in the air, panting. “I quit.”
The girls joined the boys. “Let’s go,” said Tej. “Wait,” said Advika as she turned to look at the forest.
The tall, green trees uprooted from the earth beneath and began to dissolve in the air like sugar dissolves in the water. “Step behind,” said Ray as he pulled Advika’s arm.
Invisible walls of air sprang up around the forest, inducing a storm, forming a dome above it. The trees uprooted, whirled around the rock, diminished in size, then disappeared, as though it never existed. The vast forest slowly waned into oblivion.