Elementalists: Nine United

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The Council stumbled into their isolated chambers—laughter spilled from their lips. They freed themselves from the stuffy robes and hung each on the designated hooks in the entryway. The caravan would travel north into the city of Yahav, and the Council would be back to business as usual. They gathered in a large hall where they had room to dance and party. They pulled the couches away from the walls to create an amphitheater stage. Dwayne and Eilene set up small tables in front of the couches. Hans and Scarlet lounged with their phones while they discussed politics in Russian. Series sat on the arm of a couch and tried to explain some of the parts of her culture never noticed by the community. Luana rummaged through their music selection to find appropriate background music.

The dumbwaiter in the corner of the room flashed a light to let them know it arrived. Scarlet opened the door and called out orders for the others to collect. Each dish had a descriptive label which marked the prepared food with a number and list.

“Number one: a spicy and sweet rolled steak, beans, and a side of cornbread.”

“Me!” Series tore into the beans once seated on the couch.

“Number two: kolbasa, tvorog, ryazhenka, and pirozhkis. How many of those do you plan to eat in one day, Hans?” Scarlet gave him a skeptical look.

“It’s a holiday.”

“Number three: a hamburger, fries, and—”

“Mine!” Luana and Eilene stood together. The room froze as they glared at each other.

“Hold on—there’s three burgers in here. This one has a Sprite.”

“Mine, for sure.” Eilene claimed the dish.

“Number four is a hamburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake.”

Luana took the dish with a scowl. Both women continued their staring contest until Scarlet announced the fifth order, a cheeseburger and fries which belonged to Scott.

Order six belonged to Scarlet: veggie spring rolls, baobing, and Taiwanese Crepes. Dwayne’s order, smoked duck, the last in the dumbwaiter, and he received it delivered to him on the couch.

Eilene tempted her with a handful of fries to trade one of her crepes. She took a bite and examined the contents. “Is that broccoli?”


“I never would’ve guessed. I don’t like spinach.”

“Let me know if you want to try some baobing. I ordered too much. This one here has walnuts on top and it’s amazing.”

“I swear Chinese food is the best food in existence.” The blonde scooped away some of the crushed ice. “Scott, you should trade some of your fries for this. It’s amazing and worth it.”

He gave her a startled look, dark hair falling into his left eye, and she giggled. Eilene commandeered his spoon and a handful of fries. She deposited the fries on Scarlet’s plate and took a spoonful of baobing. Scott took the spoon back and ate it in one bite.

“It’s good.”

“I can’t believe you aren’t offering me any food, Dickens.”

“Scarlet’s a vegetarian, Dwayne. She doesn’t want your duck.”

“I can speak for myself.” Scarlet mumbled.

“Lucky for Mulan, I wasn’t talking to her. I want some of your burger, Dickens.”

“No way!”

Scott pushed his ice-cream sundae a little closer to Eilene. Everyone zeroed in on the movement. It took several seconds for her to search his piercing blue eyes for an answer to the gesture.

“You want to share your ice-cream?”

He swallowed hard and nodded once. She used her spoon and took a bite of the soft serve. He dug into the other side and tried to ignore the moments toward the end where their spoons collided in the dish. Scott let her finish the ice-cream.

“What’s tvorog like?” Luana pointed at the cottage cheese side dish on Hans’ plate.

“Try some, Lu.” He held out the plate for her to taste it. She dipped the tip of her spoon and Hans pulled on her wrist to fully dunk the utensil. “That’s a proper taste.”

She flushed the pushed the spoon into her mouth. “It’s good.”

September 3, 2316

“Cereal?” Dwayne stared at Luana’s breakfast with disappointment. She chased the soggy, colorful dregs of Trix around the bowl with her spoon. A half-empty sugar cup, usually used for tea and coffee, sat in front of her.

“It’s a very cultural food for those of us born in good ol’ ’Murica.” Her voice dragged with sleep and several short nods brought her dangerously close to drowning in milk.

“You can try some sorghum,” he offered her the bowl he lifted from the dumbwaiter.

“Corn meal hardly sounds good when it’s made into corn bread. Why would I want to eat it for breakfast?”

“How do you not like corn bread?” Series passed the pair on her way to the dumbwaiter.

“Am I not allowed to like different food?”

Scott and Hans filed into the room, still in their pajama pants. They waited together in silence but took seats on opposite sides of the table when the food arrived. Hans took his customary place next to Luana and nudged her to see if she wanted any kasha. Scott usually sat near Series but forwent the quieter space to sit one place away from Dwayne (anticipating Eilene would sit between them) with his American classic: bacon and eggs. Scarlet arrived in the room as the same time as her rice porridge and baozi—already dressed for the workday.

The resident Water elementalist the last to wake for the day, still in a loose nightgown. She only collected a steaming mug of hot chocolate from the dumbwaiter before she joined them at the table—exactly in the spot Scott predicted.

“That’s hardly a breakfast.” Series criticized over a bite of French Toast.

“I don’t like breakfast.” She used Dwayne’s spoon to steal a taste of his cultural dish. “I love sorghum.”

“Mine!” The African jokingly shielded his bowl from her and took several hurried bites.

“I would try and steal some of Scott’s eggs, but they’re harder to nab.” She winked at the goth. He offered her a piece of bacon.

“Sorry, I don’t like bacon.” Eilene declined with a soft touch to the back of his hand. Dwayne and Scarlet the only two who didn’t drop their utensils in surprise at her statement. A grin crept onto the blonde’s face as the others tried process her statement. Several moments passed before she muttered: “there’s nothing to be shocked about.”

Dwayne provided a topic change before the others could find it in themselves to interrogate her further. “Molelo, Ginger is healthy enough to leave the infirmary today. I plan on releasing him which means he’ll need a room and we need to set up an initiation run.”

“I’m glad he’s being released, but it does create more work for us.” Frustration bled into Luana’s eyes under the dark bags.

“What run are we going to give him?” Series couldn’t hide her excitement as she finished the last few bites of her French Toast in one.

“Scarlet, I’d like you to pick out one of the run’s for Ethan.” Their leader leaned into the center of the table to meet the woman’s eyes. She pushed another bite past her lips and chewed thoughtfully before she answered.

“I can, but Eilene and I planned to work on the lesson plans today. We want to distribute them alongside the history books.” She didn’t like doing more than she could handle when they should split the work between all seven members.

“I forgot you are on that team.” Luana frowned and turned her attention to Eilene who tapped in an order for uitsmijter on her phone.

“I’ll do it.” Hans pushed his plate away.

“Thank you.” Luana turned back to the soggy pieces of cereal in her bowl. She pushed it around with her spoon and pulled a face. Scarlet took the opportunity to wiggle her eyebrows at the Russian. He blatantly ignored her attempts.

They fell into a comfortable silence as they finished their meals. A couple of them caught a few more Z’s in their seats until the arrival of the dumbwaiter. The bell snapped them into action. Scott ran water in the sink to wash the dishes.

Eilene passed her cup to Scott and gently bumped his hip with hers. She leaned in to whisper into his ear to keep her rival from hearing but missed the flush of pink across the man’s nose. “If you survive your tasks with Luana today, I’ll see you at lunch.”

Eilene took her uitsmijter with her and followed Scarlet through the halls to the offices where they could work on the lesson plans.

Luana set her dishes on the counter. “Series, will you help me review laws and bill proposals today?”

“Will we be going over any of the proposals from the Uns today? Last I saw, the paperwork started to pile up.” Series used her fork to scrape the remnants of syrup into her mouth before she also set her plate on the counter.

“Our research trip didn’t help either.” Luana pursed her lips. “It’ll be the first matter of business today.”

“Why are the Uns so hard to deal with?”

“They are a part of our people too, even if they can’t control an element.” Scott mumbled. Hans ignored him.

“Staying away from the argument, we have to deal with them.” Dwayne stood. “I’m going to make sure Ethan is ready to leave today.”

“Once you’re done, join us in the law room. Same with you Scott, and Hans. Your tasks shouldn’t take long.”

“This documentary on elementalists is strange. I can’t decide whether they’re trying to explain the biology behind our mutation or paint us all as mass murderers.” Ethan commented when Dwayne entered the room. He stared up at the TV situated in the ceiling tiles and the doctor took a momentary glance up to register which one the other chose.

“It is human made. That’s to be expected.” He pulled a pair of gloves from the box on the wall and snapped them into place. “There’s over a thousand movie options on there, you could watch something else.”

“Not all of those movies are good—you know that, right?”

“I’d be nice to me if you want to leave today. Otherwise I’ll leave you here on your own for another week.”

“I’m able to be released today?” He sat up and tried not to pull at the IVs and monitoring cords still attached to his arms.

“If your vitals are as stable as yesterday. We needed twenty-four hours of healthy vitals before I’d be willing to release you. If your behavior is up to par, I’ll show you to your temporary room.”


“Considering the circumstances. There are also several factors leading to our decision, but we’ll explain them later. Depending on other decisions as well. If you choose to stay here.”

“If I choose to not stay here?”

“Molelo will make that call. We have the technology to wipe your memories of all the time you spent here, but no one will believe you came back from the dead. It’s in your best interests to stay, but nobody will force you.” Dwayne opened his medical screen and sorted through information.

“Luana makes all the shots around here. Is she the oldest?”

“She isn’t, but she has time seniority. At eight-years-old, the previous Council chose Molelo to join them. We treat her as the leader because of how long she’s worked as a governmental body. In reality, she’s only the leader over Fire since we’re all over our own entity, but she chooses what we work on day by day—unless we make a good argument. She knows what she’s doing for the most part, and we’re by her side if she doesn’t.”

“You’ve thought the hierarchy through.”

“All those nights where you lie awake questioning your existence.”

“And then you remember every terrible thing you’ve ever said.” Ethan closed his eyes when Dwayne pulled one of the IV drips from the catheter. “Do you guys ever fight over issues?”

“Yeah. Hans usually steps in to mediate since Molelo is emotionally charged about her opinions. She was raised here, and she sees things a little different from the rest of us outside the system for a longer time.”

He placed a cotton ball over the place where the catheter attached to Ethan’s arm before he pulled the blue piece out. The red head winced but tried not to move so Dwayne could apply self-adhesive tape. The Life elementalist checked his phone before detaching the rest of the cords holding Ethan to the bed.

The doctor collected a paper bag from the hallway and handed it to the patient. “You’ll find a few different sets of clothes in there. Put on what fits in the bathroom and I’ll show you to your room.”

“Are these yours?”

“Mulan went on a shopping expedition a couple days ago. She guessed sizes since we destroyed your original set of clothes. We put more in your room, but we have no idea if they’ll fit.”

“Thanks.” Ethan stood from the bed and hurried to the bathroom, aware the robe he wore opened in the back and showed off more than he cared for Dwayne to see.

“They’ve made you my guard dog?” Ethan called through the door.

“Hurry up and change.”

Ethan found one pair of underwear which didn’t cut off all the circulation to his parts and a pair of pants which refused to stay up because of the too large waistband. He pulled one of the T-shirts over his head and found it fit nicely around him, if not a little tight around his shoulders. He used his left hand to hold the pants—no belt in the bag.

“Ready, Ginger?” Dwayne didn’t turn around when he exited the bathroom.


“Your nickname, as long as I’m allowed to know you.”

“You don’t happen to have an extra belt, do you?”

“I don’t, but you can use this.” Dwayne tossed him one of the bed straps from a drawer. “Just give it back to me once you get a real belt.”

“No problem.”

The Council member led him out of the hospital room and Ethan took in a deep breath when he saw the plain gray hallways. The color stimulation amazed him after weeks of bare white. He followed obediently behind Dwayne and struggled to keep his path from wandering when he saw lights on behind partially open doors. The Life elementalist stopped down a particularly dark corridor and triggered a door to slide open.

“This is your room. The outer switch is here,” he indicated the spot. “You get to figure out where the inner mechanism is. I’ll call for you when the trial is ready.”

He took two steps away before he heard Ethan groan. They set the Council rooms to remain stark white so as not to waste power when unoccupied. A grin crept onto the man’s face.

“Oi, Ginger.”


“Ask and you will receive.”


Dwayne vanished down the hall and left Ethan outside another prison. The red head took a deep breath and reluctantly stepped into the room. The words from the Council member rang in his head, but as the door slid closed behind him, he couldn’t figure out what it meant.

“Please hand out the copy of the newly released textbook before starting class.” Scarlet dictated to Eilene.

The woman sat in front of a computer and typed directly onto the desk where a virtual keyboard registered her movements. The computer screen made of a single pane of glass held up by two support pieces on the bottom corners. An external hard drive sat on the desk next to them.

“Class will begin with a slideshow assembled and distributed to you by the Council.”

“We have to build that too?” Eilene’s eyes glossed over.

“Yes, we’ll need to build the presentation—though I don’t think it will take the longest since we already have approved templates.”

“Maybe we can convince Luana to give us Dwayne or Scott to help our cause. Staring at this computer screen is killing my brain cells.”

“That’s not how computers work. Killing your eyesight, yes, killing your brain? Not so much.”

“Don’t fix my biology.” Eilene whined and dropped her head to the desk where it held down the M key on their open document. Her hair cascaded around her face and reminded Scarlet they almost made a matching ombre set—black into blonde and blonde into blue.

“Luana might not let them escape from her legal paperwork rampage.”

“She’s the one who let it pile up.” She mumbled. “It can’t hurt to ask, can it? Worst answer is ‘no’.”

“Luana’s ’no’s are always more impactful for some reason.” Scarlet threw herself into one of the office chairs and pulled the elementalist history book back into her line of sight. Eilene pulled her hair into a messy bun before she deleted the long string of M’s. “Shall we continue?”

“Only because we have no choice.”

Scarlet cleared her throat. “Due to information not previously recorded in local history, we introduce our people to two new elements. ‘Teachers, please instruct your students to make notes on the following information.’ The two new elements are Death and Supernatural. Both elements move through periods of extinction into revival. Modern extinction tracks a momentary drop in the appearance of these two elements between the First and Second world wars. Further inspection of this information leads toward hypothesis over how these elements are meant to exist during war times because their skills best aide in battle. The inactivity of their elemental contribution leads them to die out until they’re needed. After the Second World War, the nine elements became the seven we know today. As a Council we strive to be a complete unit of nine people in order to better lead our country but understand the conditions behind having all nine present. Currently, we witnessed a resurgence of the Death element and excitedly await the return of the Supernatural element as well.”

“Should we leave the introductory lesson there and assign readings before having a longer and fuller lesson which can include discussion on topic matter?” Eilene stretched her fingers and popped her left pointer finger to relieve pressure in the joints.

“That’s a fair idea.” Scarlet set the book down and rubbed at her eyes. “I’m not sure how many students will complete the assigned reading—or general population for that matter.”

“They just have to get the basic idea.” Eilene yawned. She made a small noise of contentment before she scanned the document for any grammatical errors or places where she could tighten the English into better constructed sentences.

“At least I finally understand why there were nine victors when the original Council came together. I couldn’t figure out why they would double up on a particular element.”

The blonde’s eyes went wide, and she looked at Scarlet with her mouth unhinged. “That never clicked before.”

Scarlet held back a laugh.

“What elements do you think the nine controlled?”

“Well, if you look at these maps from the nine safe cities, or the original cities the Council founded on the earth’s face when it was still Pangea, you can see patterns indicating toward their element.” She flipped a few pages in the book. “Here is the city of Jerusalem, founded by Yahav. If you look at the early maps of the city, you see how it compartmentalized. There are only a handful of streets which don’t follow a grid pattern—it looks a lot like modern set-ups of large hospitals between the main buildings and other features. I think it’s be safe to say Yahav was a Life elementalist. Ricci’s city, Venice, is full of waterways and I’d guess she’s your predecessor—a Water elementalist.”

“I almost feel bad guessing Pompeii, Messina’s city, is Fire—but the volcano which wiped out the city points in that direction.”

“Āiyō, you’re totally right. We could also look at the element breakdown pages where it tells us.” Scarlet laughed and mused through the pages of maps and sketches of the early cities before she came to a page which made her stop. “What’s this diagram referring to?”

“This text here is Tamil, from what I’ve studied, but this text around the images is Neo-Egyptian—I think this last language here in the margins, it looks like the mountainous background, is Greek. I can’t decide whether it’s Linear A or Linear B. If it’s Linear A we may never know what it says because no one has found a way to translate it.”

“What’s this one that makes up the clouds?”

“Oh, I didn’t even realize.” Eilene leaned into the picture. “It looks like Hebrew.”

“None of us speak any of those languages.” Scarlet ran her fingers across the page.

“No, we might need to ask Luana to bring in some professional translators to work on decoding the message. Based on the picture, you see the person in the middle there, their eyes are empty, so I want to assume the artist wanted to draw them glowing. You can also see basic representations of the nine elements around here. I want to assume it has something to do with the Council, but I could be wrong. I’ve poured over some of the language books we have in the library, but I can’t make sense of much of this. If it was in Dutch, I’d have no problem.”

“Same for me if it was in Mandarin.” Scarlet closed the book. “I’ll talk to Luana about the translators.”

“I guess we should move onto lesson two while we’re ahead.” Eilene stretched her arms over her head and the joints in her shoulders popped.

“And steal Scott this afternoon.”

“Perfect plan.”

A knock on the door interrupted them and Hans peeked his head into the room. “The run is set-up, time to go.”

Ask and you will receive. Dwayne’s words echoed in Ethan’s head as he gauged the room. Maybe this is why all the Council members are insane—they live in white rooms made for people in straitjackets.

Ethan took a deep breath and cleared his mind. He couldn’t say anything much about the Council members as he didn’t know them well enough. He licked his lips and categorized the obvious things in the room. The stark white bed directly in front of him, running against the left wall at a ninety-degree parallel to the exit. A nightstand stood on the opposite side of the bed, but no other furniture. Ethan took a seat on the end of the bed and closed his eyes to think.

“What on earth does ‘ask and you will receive’ mean?” He mumbled under his breath. When he opened his eyes again, the walls echoed the phrase Dwayne gave him earlier with plain, serif, black text. He blinked several times and the words disappeared.

Ethan wondered if the white walls affected him. If there is a button to open the door, then maybe there’s other buttons as well. He stood up from the foot of the bed and wandered back to the wall where he entered. He assumed they reserved the wall for the exit door, which meant he could explore three other walls. He faced the wall to his right from the entryway and placed his hands on the cool material. Ethan’s hands wandered up and down the wall as high and low as he could reach. The first button he found launched four dresser draws into his body and sent him sprawling across the ground. He rubbed his ribs in displeasure and glared at the clothes.

In the top drawer he found a few pairs underwear he wanted to try over the ones Dwayne gave him. He quickly jumped out of his pants and found a more comfortable pair of boxers before he moved onto the lower drawers. A pair of dark grey cargo shorts fit well and he threw the larger jeans into the dresser before he closed it and moved onto the next discovery—which turned out to be his own private bathroom in the same white color. Everything in a non-hidden place with no issues finding the sink, toilet, or shower.

On the opposite wall from the entryway, he found the closet and changed the shirt he wore to a size larger made from a more comfortable material. He took a couple of the smaller shirts and placed them on the floor directly under the buttons—except, he couldn’t remember where the dresser hid in comparison to the bathroom. He glued himself to the wall in hopes he wouldn’t have another fight with the dresser drawers, but he picked the wrong side of the button and sent them painfully into his spine.

Ethan collapsed onto his bed with an annoyed huff.

“It’d be so much easier to know where everything is without taking the chance of being attacked by sadistic furniture.”

His voice muffled, but the room responded all the same. When he turned his head to face one of the walls, a single word faded away. Ask.

“Can you…” he drifted off. “Please mark the buttons with their functions?”

His voice cracked at the end as he thought about whether he should phrase it as a question—even if the instructions said “ask”—since the room remained an inanimate object. The room humored him and placed large, black, chalk styled letters. He experimented with several different fonts before settling on a simple serif font which looked nice above each highlighted button.

He laid back on the bed and wondered if the rest of the room could change on a whim too. Ethan took a deep breath before requesting blue walls, a cedar floor, and green covers. Without a moments delay, the changes occurred, and he jumped up in excitement. “Mississippi sky and Nevada mountains?”

The breath jumped from his lungs as he took in the change. The room built to cater to his every whim, and he could easily take advantage of it.

A knock at the door made him jump and he hurried to answer it. When he pushed the button to leave the room, he could barely see across the dark hallway.

“Hello?” Ethan stepped out of his room in search of the person who knocked. The door shut behind him and plunged him into darkness until a small light lit up at the end of the hallway. Without hesitation he walked toward the light. When he reached it, another flickered on farther down the hall and he kept going.

He continued to follow the lights, each appeared one after another and vanished behind him. Excitement bubbled in his chest at what might be at the end. He figured the Council prepared something special—he hoped for a party—since they believed he became the first in a resurgence of Death. As he approached the end of a long corridor, a door stood slightly ajar. Anticipation grew in his stomach as his hand landed on the plastic paneling and pushed. On the other side—no party, but a slim beam of metal stretched over a pit without a seeable end till it met a platform on the other side. The height didn’t scare him, but the beam had no anchors to the small platforms, which made him nervous. He didn’t know if it would shift under any pressure. He tried to turn back, but the door swung closed. Ethan couldn’t budge the handle. He took a deep breath and pushed his tongue into the inner of his cheek until it bubbled out.

He took several moments to consider the physics of the beam in front of him before he dropped on all fours and balanced his weight in a steady crawl. Despite his best attempts to keep the beam steady, three-quarters of the way across an ominous creak issued from the metal as it fell away from the second platform. Startled, he used his legs to stand and jump in one motion. Ethan didn’t make it far enough to land on the platform, and his already sore chest took another beating as he grappled with the platform. His fingers gripped the edge and he used the motion to help his feet find purchase against the stone wall. The action allowed him to push his body up where his arm could get a better hold on the platform. Ethan’s hand collided with a rope which he grabbed immediately. He felt the fibers burn against his skin, but the grip allowed him to bring up his second hand and pull himself to safety.

Ethan stepped through the next opening. The door clanged as it sealed behind him and light flooded the room. He stood on a small square surrounded by no floor with eight doorways spread around the room. Seven of the crystals above the doors lit to the various colors Ethan knew represented the elements. Orange for Fire; blue for Water; green for Life; white for Air; red for Earth; yellow for Storms; gold for Fortune. The one crystal not lit up a dark purple color bordered on black.

“Ethan Silverspoon,” a voice greeted, it sounded suspiciously like Luana.

“Hold up,” he put up a hand to stop them. “This isn’t some elaborate hoax to try and kill me again? I thought we finished this.”

A loud pitch in audio feedback screeched across the room as someone else struggled to take control of the microphone. A moment later Series appeared on the line. “No killing, a proposition.”

Another squeak as control turned back to the Council head. “We want to ask you if you are willing to serve for the rest of your life as a member of the Council which protects the elementalist people? Are you willing to negotiate with those who oppose us? To keep peace between humans and ours? Prepared to set clear lines between our laws and those which govern the Uns? Are you willing to be the eighth member of the Council who will help us find the ninth?”

Ethan’s face crinkled in thought and his shoulders rose with his deep breath. While his decision here would dictate his future, whether he remembered his time with the Council and accepted the responsibilities or forgot and returned to the land of the living, he felt drawn to the Council. His posture straightened and he focused on the orange light.

“I will. I am willing to join the Council.”

“Good job, Ginger.” Dwayne complimented as the doors under each crystal opened. The floor reappeared around him and allowed the seven to walk toward him.

“I’m happy to have you with us, as long as you promise to not be as annoying as in the med room.” Scarlet grinned. Ethan provided her with a hesitant nod.

“Welcome to the Council.”

September 12, 2316

Lagoon, Farmington, Utah

One long and tiring trip from Arizona later, with a five-year-old in the back seat, they arrived in Utah for a three-day vacation. One day spent in the hot, mountainous, desert sun walking around an amusement park, two spent driving. Kim held his daughter’s hand tightly as they walked through the park. Older couples watched their grandchildren ride on smaller rides made for children. Circling rockets and spinning teacups surrounded them as they looked for the next ride. A nearby cotton candy vendor waved his clever and large creations of spun floss, but Kim gently steered Aideen away—she didn’t need any more sugar for the day after their disastrous snow cone experience.

Aideen skipped at her father’s side and watched teenagers and young adults grab each other to wait in hour long lines for the newest and best roller coasters. Some of the larger rides intrigued Kim, but he didn’t trust himself to take Aideen on them yet.

“I want to ride the animal train.” She pointed at the small locomotive chugging its way around the large pond. Kim looked over the crowd and winced at the long line. The ride clearly popular with the kids.

“Okay, we’ll ride the train and then head back to the hotel for the night.”

Aideen hummed and pulled her father to the line. While they waited, Kim hoisted her up onto his shoulders so she could see the park. When their section of the line prepared to board, he lowered her back to the ground. Her feet met the metal platform; Aideen slipped from her father’s grasp and ran for the front car. Kim hurried after her, uneasy about the separation in case anyone harbored less than desirable intentions.

The train conductor smiled warmly at them and kept their trained eye on the loading process for each car.

“Which animal are you most excited to see?” Kim protectively put an arm around Aideen while he buckled them both to the bench. As one of the nearby rides shuddered to a stop, ripples echoed across the pond’s surface.

“The buffalo!”

“They’re very big.”

“But their fur looks really soft.”

“You know not to pet the buffalo, right?” Kim worried his child didn’t understand animals instinctually acted as animals.

“Karin says we never go near wild animals because they don’t know us. They think we are strangers and when we see strangers, we stay away.”

“Very smart,” he brushed her hair softly behind her ear. The ride jolted to a start and distracted Aideen for a moment. She tried to stand up, but the belt kept her in place. She settled for pointing across the car.

“Daddy, there’s a duck!”

September 15th, 2316

Why, Arizona

Kim lifted Aideen up on top of her worn mattress. The little girl threw her arms in the air and let her father undress her for the night. He picked up the green frog pajamas the toddler chose and helped her climb into them (he had to guide her arms into the right places). Kim directed her to the bathroom, and she bounced on the bed a few times before dropping to the floor.

“Is daddy getting in his pajamas now?” Aideen dragged a small, yellow stool from the kitchen toward the bathroom.

“Yep, I’m going to wear green like you.”

“You’re not supposed to copy me until I’m a celebrity.” She struggled to grip the edges of the toothpaste drawer.

“Should I wear blue then?” His voice muffled by the closed bedroom door.

“No green!” Her shout sent toothpaste foam all over the mirror and counter.

When they finished their nightly routines, and Kim wiped the bathroom clean, he tucked Aideen under the covers in her bed. She kicked her legs under the covers while she tried to patiently wait for her dad to pick a bedtime story. Kim brought several options, including the several-hundred years old Boxcar Children. He took a seat on the edge of the bed and held out the books to his daughter. She pointed to the one with a pretty gold foil cover over a red underlay.

The Ogre in the Woods by L.M. Doughty.” Half-way through the story, Aideen fell asleep. The cautious parent, Kim finished the book before he left the quiet room. He moved the books to her nightstand and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. On his way back to his own room, he turned out the light and closed the door with a quiet click.

Unable to fall asleep in his own bed, he returned to Aideen’s room. She laid on her side and slept peaceful under the light of the moon filtering through the curtains. Kim climbed into the bed at her side and with his daughter in his arms, he let himself drift into nothing.

September 18th, 2316

“It feels strange to leave Aideen with a different person, even if she is my mother.” Kim laughed. He sat in the driver’s seat of his hover car with Karin next to him. It took a while to steel his nerves and ask her on a date, but her enthusiastic response made him wish he asked sooner. Before he left his parent’s house, Aideen provided him a little show by dancing around the living room and singing about having a new “mommy”.

“Where are you taking me tonight?” Karin effectively moved the topic away from the child. They spoke about Aideen often enough.

“I made plans to go to C’est La Vie, the cliché French restaurant. I quite like the food.”

“That sounds like you. Cliché, but nice.”

Over dinner Kim took the time to clarify he liked Karin more romantically instead of just as his daughter’s nanny.

“I hoped so, otherwise I’d be confused about why you brought me to C’est La Vie.”

“Do you like me too, then, even though I took you to a cheesy restaurant?”

“I wouldn’t have said yes, if I didn’t like you.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”

September 20th, 2316

The Academy

Series sunk back into her pillows and stared up at the starry sky displayed on her ceiling. It reminded her of the open skies on the reservation in Northwest Arizona. Everything open and on display, no pollution to block her view of the Milky Way. She could stare at the universe forever and never know if she saw the end. She pulled the duvet higher on her body and curled her toes into the warm material. She turned onto her left side and tangled her legs into the blankets.

The room slipped away, and she fell into a harrowing dream.

Memories blurred and moved at a pace where she couldn’t track the events. It came to a stop in a small cabin in the woods and she shivered. Series knew the cabin stored blankets in the basement. She headed into the dark depths, but when she came to the foot of the stairs, her toes cold, a large lake awaited her arrival. In the middle, a rock protruded where a large frog, wearing a royal crown, sat on a tall throne made of spider webs and lakeweed. Series jumped into the water and struck out for the island in the middle, but a firefly landed in her hair and pushed her under the surface. When she struggled against the insect, the water turned to air and she fell until her back collided with the center of a sunflower. She pushed herself out of the disc flowers and came face to face with a man she didn’t recognize.

He gestured for her to come forward and stand in front of a large mirror. She glanced at him before leaning in, but she saw no reflection. Hands landed on her back and pushed her into the glass. She passed through and collided heavily with a pool of silvery water. When she gripped at the underwater weeds, it changed to grass and her body collapsed in a soaking heap on a hillside. The ground under her turned to mud. A mass of bodies surrounded her and moved through her as if she didn’t exist. When she stood and turned to one of the clearings, Scott stood in the middle. His eyes glowed a stark white and he wielded all the elements at once. She gasped and the vision forced her away from the display when she caught a glimpse of herself in the crowd. The other Series fought off her own hoards, and a large ring of gold imprinted on the ground lowered the luck of anyone who entered the space to fight her head-on. Series made to move through the crowd, but she lost her footing and rolled the rest of the way down the hill.

When she hit the bottom, a layer of find sand coated her skin. Several tents waited farther away from the shoreline and she headed toward them. Before she got there, two figures walking down the beach distracted her. Luana and Hans, their shoes in hand as the wind blew at their clothes—their skin lit up in different colors from the setting sun. Luana tossed her hair out of her face.

“I never expected to see him, out here, fighting against us.” Her voice cracked with tears.

“I think he was surprised too, to face you that way.” Hans pulled her into his arms and rubbed his hands up and down her back to warm and comfort their leader.

“How are we going to win this war?”

“By remaining strong when we see adversity.”

Series continued to the line of tents on the shore, but when she pushed up one of the flaps to explore, a crowd of elementalist people confronted her. The Academy rose just ahead of them and poised on the marble steps, the eight current members of the Council—except their cloaks bundled at their feet and, on full display, their appearances to euphoric cheers.

Series jolted awake safely under her covers. Heavy breaths escaped her chest and her mind raced to process what she saw. She tried to make sense of the scenes and decided to ignore them until she had a better idea of what they meant. War—too little information to go on.

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