Who Are We?
October 30, 2395
City of Vasha
Hans greedily pulled the front door open when the bell rang. He loved to run out into the front yard and play in the street, much to his parent’s dismay. The child safety door handle covers hadn’t stopped him because he figured them out easily as a quick and clever child. A member of the retrieval team stood on their front porch. His father moved to intercept the man. He provided a slight bow before asking how he could help them.
“Is your son Maxim home?”
“Go get your brother.” Hans’ father commanded in Russian.
Hans ran up the stairs to find his older brother and sister, Odessa, in the study reading a book together. Maxim’s dark brown hair curled against his head and keened for the book in front of him as he argued with his blonde sister. They disagreed over semantics in the text, but Hans’ appearance interrupted them. Matching sets of blue eyes landed on him.
“The retrieval team is asking for Maxim.” Hans relayed.
The three siblings quickly vacated the room and joined their parents at the front door.
“Is there something I can help you with?” Maxim offered.
“If you’ll please come with me.” The man gestured for him to step outside the house. He obeyed, but he stopped as soon as he stood on the porch.
“No,” he turned to the stranger. “You can’t do this.”
“You are an Un, Maxim. You will be transferred to your new home.” The man wrapped their hand around Maxim’s upper arm and pulled.
“You can’t,” he tried to pull away. The grip didn’t relent. He looked back at his family. “Father, you can’t let them do this. I’m your son.”
They tugged harder. Maxim lashed out. A wave of rock encased Maxim’s middle and they lifted Hans’ brother into the air.
“I’m your son!” Maxim yelled back at the figures in the doorway of his house. Others on the street peered out of their windows and doors to watch the events.
“You are not our son.” Hans’ father whispered.
“Please don’t do this.” The teenager’s words fell into Russian.
The retrieval team member lifted him into a large jail pod waiting in the middle of the street. Three other people already on board.
“Mama!” Maxim pressed his face against the open window. He cursed violently. “Otets!”
October 31, 2395
City of the Uns
Maxim never understood why the Elementalists separated from the Uns. Uns no different than the humans on the Earth’s face. No better either. He would never see his family again.
“What’s your name?” The first words he heard after the prison pod dropped him off in the city. He sat on the dusty floor of a warehouse—he could tell by the metal walls of the building—with four others like him. Maxim looked up at the teenager in front of him. She had dark black hair and a cockney accent. She held herself in a manner to indicate she considered herself better than everyone else.
“Maxim,” he replied lowly.
She took verbal note of his Russian accent. “Born to an elementalist family and now you’re here.”
“Yes. I’d like to go back.”
“There’s no going back, surely you know that by now.” A boy in the corner of the room snorted. Maxim looked at him and recognized him as one of the Uns with him in the pod.
“You get two choices here in the Uns.” The girl ignored the boy. “You go out of this warehouse and try to find a family who cares for you. None of them will come by here, they don’t want to have another mouth to feed. Or you tell us where you’re from and you become a part of our family.”
“Do people adopt a lot of Uns out there?” Maxim jerked his head toward the rollup door.
“There’s been twenty-seven of us in the last three weeks. Fifteen chose to go out there and eleven are barely hanging on. They’re beggars in the streets.”
“You don’t break the law, do you?”
“Of course not.”
“I’m from City of Vasha.” He put one hand out. The girl grabbed his hand and pulled him up. He towered over her by several inches.
“I’m Esebelle of the Uns. Good to have you onboard, Maxim.”
December 2, 2395
Border between City of Vasha and City of the Uns
“Maxim?” Hans called through the chain link fence separating the Uns from the rest of Elementōrum Patriam. His fingers clutched the metal and pressed the imprint of the diamond into the palm of his hand. Within only a couple of months, his brother aged. He didn’t look eleven. He stood on the edge of the street in Uns and stared at the snow falling in Diana behind Hans.
“Hans,” When he recognized his brother, Maxim wandered close to the fence. His blue eyes focused on the child. He looked wary of the metal and stayed several inches away.
Hans’ fingers cold and red at the tips; if he got frostbite it would be worth it to see his brother. Maxim lifted a hand and reached out to touch his brother’s fingers but stopped before he touched the metal. Hans could see the outline of the chain link diamonds burned into his brother’s palms. He trailed the scars and saw they extended up his arms as well. Hans’ brow furrowed and he locked eyes with Maxim. Maxim dropped his hand.
“Are you going to come back home?”
“You know I can’t.” Maxim broke their staring contest and looked up at the sky. He carded his scarred hand through his dark hair. His eyes trailed the path of a snowflake until it connected with the ground. “I want you to promise me something, Hans.”
The child nodded.
“Whatever happens, don’t become like your big brother, okay?” He took a deep breath. “if you must come to the Uns don’t take their deal, live on the streets if you have to. I want you to be an elementalist though. I want you to have a better life. You need to be a leader and make things better for everyone. Don’t follow blindly.”
“What do you mean?”
July 21, 2316
Transportation Pod #1
Hans stirred from his restless slumber in the vehicle and sat up. They flew over the Atlantic and he couldn’t make out land on either side of the ocean. He looked around the cabin and saw Scarlet and Series sleeping across the pod from him. He turned to the weight on his shoulder and noticed Luana’s eyes trained on the crashing waves outside the window. In the dim morning haze of light Hans took a moment to recall her slender frame when they first met. Short and slender, then and now.
He cleared his throat and Luana glanced at him. They saw Scarlet shift on the seat across from them. Hans took a steadying breath and closed his eyes. Hans’ family returned home from a vacation in Russia, to visit his human grandparents, only to find their daughter sitting in the kitchen of their home. Odessa ran from the Council after she received the invitation to her death sentence. Hans’ father outraged to find she returned and put their family in danger of harboring a criminal. He threw her out onto the street and a small Fire elementalist beheaded her on their front lawn. Despite being nine years old at the time, he hadn’t forgotten the event.
He nudged her and felt her gaze fall on him. “It was you, wasn’t it?”
“It was me what?”
“You’re the one who killed Odessa, my older sister.”
Luana’s head dropped and she tugged at her fingers. The Council invited her to join at eight years old. She took over as their leader because she spent the most time ruling Elementōrum Patriam, with Hans as a second to her. He knew what her flames looked like; the same ones the Council wielded that day.
“Yeah,” the affirmative barely audible. “How did you know?”
He opened his eyes.
“You’re short. You were smaller back then.” Hans chuckled at the glare Luana sent his way. “I know your age and I know about when you joined the Council. You would’ve been new to the government, but the person who killed her wielded fire—your fire. After knowing you as long as I have—it’s not hard to imagine you killing someone.”
“You’re too smart, Hans.” She returned her head to his shoulder. “I’m sorry for killing her.”
“She was a Rogue. You did your job. It’s wrong for you to feel sorry when Odessa would’ve been a threat.” He threw an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “It is still a few hours before ice-cream and research. Sleep while you can.”
Luana nodded and Hans turned away. Since the Council swore their identities to secrecy, the government reported new Council members as Rogue’s and recorded a fake death. When Hans’ father learned the Council identified his final child as a Rogue, he believed he failed to continue the line of elementalists, he couldn’t handle the news.
On the day Hans accepted the role as a Council member—after an arduous test where he had to face his fears and come to terms with his sister’s death—the Council told him his father committed suicide. Hans knew his mother still lived, but he couldn’t meet with her. His eyelids dragged across his vision and he followed his own advice, unwillingly, into the memory of the Council’s trial.
November 23, 2306
Hans breathed heavily as he stepped toward the Council’s door. A Rogue like Odessa, but he didn’t know how. He passed all his element tests for Earth and had no issues controlling the element—his grades perfect, close to perfect, and yet the Council wanted to kill him. He paused in front of the door. Maybe the Council kills people who are too powerful. Hans shook his head. He couldn’t get cocky.
Hans pushed the door open and stared into the dark. He entered the surprisingly warm space and the door shut behind him. He quickly paced through hall. Hans could see a faint outline of the walls and he followed them. When he reached the first corner, he came face to face with a floating, burning flame. It bobbed a little way ahead of him before returning and repeating the action. The sixteen-year-old followed it through the empty space. At the end of the long hall waited an ajar door which he pushed on.
He didn’t get scared of much in his life, but the scene facing him in the room made him turn around and try to leave. The hallway vanished and he took the path into the room. A familiar chain link fence surrounded Hans. He stood in the middle of parched and dying land, but when he gazed past the fence he saw snow. Hans reached for the fence to press his fingers into the cold, but the metal burned him, and he pulled away. He clutched at the palm of his hand and the image of Maxim doing the same thing flickered through his mind.
The bead of fire danced around his head before darting off to another part of the room. He turned to find the fire bouncing in front of a painted wall panel. Hans didn’t hide his surprise he hadn’t noticed that part first, but the familiar landscape created too much of a distraction for him to think critically about the space. The Council must like to torture their victims. A frown bled onto his expression and he stood. Hans reached for the door and it opened.
The next room reminded him of the catacombs in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. Eight half-circle doors positioned around the room. It sectored the space into an octagon. Each catacomb room had a gem imbedded in the surface of the wall above it, all the spaces sealed with brick, and when Hans stepped into the center, six of the gems lit. He looked at the familiar colors representing the elements: orange, white, gold, yellow, blue, and green.
“Hans Aliyev, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” A cool male voice echoed around him. Hans’ head snapped up, but he couldn’t identify where the speaker hid. He turned in a circle and tried to identify the last two, inactive doors—but the fire bead leading him there directed him to turn back and face the six lit doors.
“We’ve brought you here today to make a proposition.” The second voice a woman and she sounded older.
“We have lost our sister of Earth and we need a replacement. The Council cannot hope to rule if all seven elements are not represented.” The first man let a smile creep into his words. Hans leaned into the sound. “We’ve chosen you to be our new brother of Earth and lead Elementōrum Patriam alongside us. Will you accept our offer?”
A rush of relief spread through Hans’ tense shoulders. His knees went weak and he nearly fell to the ground. “What?”
No one replied. He sat on the ground for a while longer before he looked up at the glowing lights again. He wanted it. If he joined the Council, it would be proof he was an elementalist. Unlike his brother or his sister—the success of the family. The Council would give him more power and he craved the control. He wanted to better his country.
Except—his parents would never know. The Council kept their identities a secret and if Hans joined them, he would still be their son, the Earth elementalist. He took a deep breath and decided joining would be for the greater good.
“I’ll do it.”
“Accept the responsibility before you.” The woman commanded. The flame which guided him on his journey bounced in front of his face. Hans reached out and closed his fingers around the fire. It didn’t burn him, instead it glowed red in his fist and he realized the initiation ended.
The bricks over the catacombs melted away and revealed the other six Council members. They walked to him and the lights gradually increased in brightness until they no longer bathed in shadows. None of the Council members wore their robes and Hans recognized for the first time their leaders would be elementalists too. The smallest, and youngest, of the seven had messy brown hair and she smiled warmly at him. Her eyes captivated him.
“Welcome,” she told him. “I’m Luana Ford.”
July 21, 2316
Transportation Pod #1
Scarlet shifted onto her side in the car. She threw her arm around the back of the head rest to make it easier for her to fall asleep by laying on her left side. The motion of the pod not as forgiving as the comfortable seats. She used the warm Council robes as a makeshift blanket. In early March of 2306, Scarlet lived in Hongu, Jingzhou, Hubei, People’s Republic of China. On the fifth day of the month, the Council brought her to Elementōrum Patriam. She wondered if her parents still lived in the same place.
A jeering catcall followed Scarlet Lí as she walked home from school. With another annoyed noise, she sped up her pace. The whistles started two years previous when she turned twelve-years-old. Although she wouldn’t be fourteen until October. Her body developed quicker than the other children her age and it took a toll on her personality. Scarlet felt more guarded than most teenagers her age and she made sure to wear baggy sweatshirts to try and help hide herself. Impossible to wear in the summer months, however.
Her black hair fell in waves against her shoulders and degraded into a blonde ombre halfway down. Her skin pale, but Scarlet didn’t like spending much time outside. When she did, the older, pedophilic men tended to try and pick her up. The boys her age wanted her for status; she ignored them. Of all the people in Hongu she liked the women in their forties the most, and sometimes fifties. They often told her she looked like the Chinese version of Aphrodite. Scarlet didn’t hate the idea—although, she preferred when people compared her to Mulan.
The women liked to ask her about her plans for the future. With their short life-spans—humans and elementalists alike lived lucky to see a day past fifty-five—they expected to meet their significant other young and marry before twenty-seven. If they didn’t, they’d be an old maid with no children and certainly no grandchildren. Scarlet had no interest in any of it. The women told her stories of times when both groups used to live well into their eighties. They often mused Scarlet might be the first to bring it back, but she passed it off as an old wives’ tale.
It didn’t take long before the compliments grew old and Scarlet hated how she looked.
She looked up at the horizon and saw storm clouds rolling in on the horizon. Scarlet cringed at the storm and prayed there wouldn’t be lightning. Her fear of lightning stemmed from a disastrous nightmare she had as a child. The nightmare included a lightning strike which hit and killed her mother. After weeks of aftershock from the dream, her parents took her to the doctor where he diagnosed her with mild PTSD and anxiety from the dream. Scarlet spent weeks in counseling and the other students bullied her when they found out. To help comfort her, her parents commissioned one of her close friends for a painting. Her friend painted a gorgeous picture of Mulan with Scarlet’s face.
While the anxiety continued, she mostly recovered from the dream—except when lightning came too close for comfort. Scarlet’s eyes flashed yellow for a moment as the storm approached, but she felt comforted when the clouds dropped the wall of water without clashing. She turned the corner to her street and ducked from building to building with her school bag held over her head to stave off the rain. She glanced down the street to find a silver transportation pod waiting in the street outside her house.
Scarlet stopped on the sidewalk and let the rain pound into her skin. Each drop echoed a rising drum beat panic attack in her veins. She continued down the walkway until she stood in front of her house. She could see two figures in blood red cloaks sitting in the main room and she swallowed hard. Scarlet darted past the main fence and to the front door. She prayed she could slip past the living room without any of her family members noticing, but her mother stepped out to visit the restroom when she slipped off her shoes.
“Xīng Hóng, you’re home.” Her mother smiled, but no genuine emotion showed. “You’re all wet, I’ll get you a towel.”
She turned stiffly away from her daughter and Scarlet had the sneaking suspicion her mother wouldn’t be as fond of her anymore. She ran a hand through her hair and tried wring some of the excess water from the strands. When her mother returned with a towel, she took the fabric and quickly dried the rest of her body from the rain.
“We have guests. I expect you to come meet with them when you’re dry.” Zhang Fei Hong, a beautiful woman with the same shade of black hair as her daughter. Her skin a darker tone from her work outside on the cotton farm. Fei Hong walked back into the living room. Scarlet hung her bag on the hook by the door and tried to dry some of the water from the fabric so it wouldn’t drip. She hung the towel on top of the bag strap and put on her slippers before stepping up into the rest of the house. Scarlet entered the first room on her left and immediately fell into a bow from her shoulders. The two Council members stood and nodded their heads in acknowledgement.
“Hello esteemed Council, I am Lí Xīng Hóng.” Scarlet greeted.
“Miss Lí, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” The woman’s Mandarin lacked, but she appreciated the gesture. “I’m sure you know why we’re here today.”
“You think I am an elementalist.”
“We do not think, Miss Lí.” The other Council member a man. “We’ve come to collect you for your education at the Academy.”
“We’ll give you time to pack what you might need. Keep in mind we provide all necessary technology and study materials for you.”
Scarlet closed her eyes. When she opened them again the Council members sat on her couch. She headed out of the room and up the stairs until she reached her bedroom—the third door on the right. She pulled the outfits out of her closet, disposed of her damp school uniform, and shoved the things she needed into an available duffle. Scarlet looked at the ceiling above her bed and examined the Mulan poster. She stepped up onto the furniture and pulled the painting down before she safely tucked it away in a poster tube. With the duffle, tube, and pillow (she loved her stiff pillow), Scarlet convinced herself to be ready to leave her childhood home.
The Council members moved to the foot of the stairs by the time she finished packing. They immediately headed out of the house and gently replaced their guest slippers on the step. They walked out the front door and Scarlet made to follow them when her mother’s voice stopped her. Fei Hong and her husband, Wang Lei, stood in the doorway of the living room.
“Xīng Hóng, we will miss you.”
Scarlet nodded stiffly. “I’ll be fine māmā.”
She walked out of the house.
Scarlet pressed her face against the cool glass of the transportation pod; the representatives of the elementalists quiet—their attempt to make the event less painful. She sighed and watched the crowded streets, shops, and skyscrapers slip away. They turned into a wide expanse of ocean. Her eyes slid closed and her mind fell away from the elementalists.
Scarlet awoke hours later from a peaceful sleep to the sound of a crinkling wrapper. The Council members passed pre-prepared food between each other and talked in low whispers. She recognized it as English, but she couldn’t pick up on what they said. When she saw the salad, her hand flew out for some. They handed her a plate and she thanked them. When she looked outside a strip of something winked in and out of view on the horizon.
“What is that?” They faced the same direction to properly identify the object.
“America, it’ll be another three hours before we reach the Academy. You can sleep some more if you’d like.”
Scarlet nodded and pushed another lettuce leaf into her mouth. The Council members passed her a can and she looked at it suspiciously. She could make out the word BEER imprinted on the front with another word she didn’t recognize.
“Is this alcohol?”
The pair looked at her in surprise.
“Of course not, alcohol is a human concoction not elementalist; this is a soda known as Root Beer.”
“Elementalists cannot consume alcohol or they will die.”
“Does someone kill them?”
“No, the alcohol will.”
“Why is our body not tolerant of the same things humans are?”
“Alcohol does destroy the human body, but at a much slower rate. Elementalists are a more evolved form of humans. We come from various genetic mutations in the human body which have existed since humans gained a form themselves. We have more tolerance for certain diseases and can often cure ourselves, but others are much more destructive to us than they are to humans. Whether either has built up a certain immunity toward it, is undefined as we are not willing to put up subjects for testing of hypothesis.”
The pod turned sharply as it prepared for its vertical ascent into Elementōrum Patriam. They flew over the west side of the country and Scarlet examined the interworking of rivers and forest across the land. The Academy caught her attention, and she pressed her fingers to the glass. She ached to touch the city. The pod descended to the parking garage and waited for its passengers to exit when it arrived at the main doors.
“Welcome back,” a few of the workers greeted quietly, their heads bowed, and they dared not look at those cloaked in the red robes.
They stepped through the double doors where a waiting line of elementalists stood.
“Shannon, will you please escort Miss Lí to the check in for new elementalists studying at the academy?”
“Yes ma’am.” Her skin a lovely dark brown sparkled; her bright blue eyes and styled black hair made her angelic in the sun. “Come with me Miss Lí.”
Within the blink of an eye, they whisked Scarlet away. She looked back over her shoulder, but the two elementalists in red cloaks vanished and she left alone with Shannon. Scarlet wondered if she would ever see the kind Council members again; everyone felt scared of them, but her encounter changed her perceptions. She could still feel a need to run and hide when anyone said the word “Council” out loud.
July 21, 2316
London, United Kingdom
Eilene stretched as she stepped out of the transportation pod. Scott and Dwayne close behind her. The trio’s tall frames made the space cramped. Dwayne rolled his shoulders to release the pressure in his joints and let out a low groan. The foursome from the first pod slower to exit their shared space as they woke from their naps. With their identities hidden as the Council—when they visited the human world for short trips, where they didn’t meet with other dignitaries—they didn’t have to wear their robes. They hid the robes in the storage compartment of the pods. It wouldn’t tip off passerby if they happened to glance inside.
“Ice-cream.” Eilene said at the same time as Luana’s:
“I came here for ice-cream first and research second.” Eilene held up her fingers to count her priorities before she marched away from the group. Dwayne sighed, shrugged at the rest of the Council, and followed his best friend. Scott gave a little wave before he joined them.
“We should relax first, Lu.” Hans joined in. The Fire elementalist’s shoulders slumped forward.
“Fine,” she resigned.
“Dickens, what flavor are you planning to get?”
“I’m sorry, but we came all this way so you could get vanilla ice-cream?” Scarlet’s brows furrowed.
“I felt like we needed to be in London.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Luana threw her hands into the air. “We came here on a whim, for vanilla.”
“Hold on,” Series held up a hand. “I increased our luck and good fortune in the library, so we could find what we needed to. Her whim might be inspired. We can indulge them by getting ice-cream and then turning to the library as planned.”
“Besides, when you think about it, all the greatest flavors have started with vanilla as the base. If I ever want to make it taste different, all I have to do is add one topping and I have a brand-new ice-cream.” Eilene gave them a wicked smile. “That makes it the most dominating flavor on the planet.”
“And you get the boring choice instead of using the gift vanilla gave to us.” Dwayne jabbed her with his elbow.
“I appreciate vanilla for its sacrifice since you won’t.” She nudged him back. Eilene rounded on Scott. “What’s your favorite?”
He shrugged. She closed her eyes and let out a large breath. Her hands landed on her hips and she opened her mouth.
“Ice-cream debacle or not,” Luana cut them off. “Once we eat, we’re going back to the books. I’m counting on you Eilene to make sure Series knows what she’s talking about. We’d better find the solution in this library or I’m holding you accountable for pulling us away from research.”
Luana pulled open the door to the shop and Eilene made a face at her back, which included her tongue sticking out. Scott put his hand on her shoulder and gently steered her into the shop after Hans. Dwayne prayed the Earth elementalists would act as a buffer between the two women.
Once they each had their orders, they sat on the tables outside in the warm London sunshine. Eilene moaned into the first bite of vanilla.
“Are you at least planning on taking your ice-cream out on a date first, Dickens?”
Everyone around the table snickered; Eilene scowled.
Series touched each of the Council members on the shoulder before they separated in the library. They could feel the luck flowing through their veins as they approached each shelf. Eilene wandered into the history section by herself and started toward the aisle with a plastic sign advertising it as the elementalist section. She reached the end of the row and stared at the long columns of books. Eilene skimmed her fingers past the ones she recognized from their home library and pulled the others down onto the middle table between the rows.
One text caught her attention among the worn, dusty, brown, and gray covers. Wine colored with gold filament accents. Eilene pulled at the top of the spine and the book came loose from the shelf. She held it in her open hand and ran a finger across the cover. Elementalists Across the Ages. They didn’t have this book in their personal collection.
Eilene opened the cover and heard the binding crack. The book not read often. She flipped the pages softly and took in their weight. The book made from heavy-weight paper, but the text didn’t look dense. The publisher stylized it to look like old bibles with a large, calligraphy based, ornately drawn first letter in the chapter and the rest of the text printed in a nice single column of serif style lettering. Eilene thumbed the first few pages of the aesthetically pleasing book until she located the table of contents.
One of the chapters listed a breakdown of each element and she turned to page three-hundred and twenty-seven. The chapter had a boldface font at the top with decorative pieces above and below the title. Eilene stared at the page. Nine elements, not seven. She slammed the book down onto the table and several other patrons glared at her. Ethan is an elementalist.