NOTE: The Prologue and Chapter 1 can be found on my blog as a separate page.
“Cassia!” a melodic voice called out.
I turned around. “Rose!”
The petite girl walking towards me had an awkward, bumbling stride. But she was beautiful all the same. With a heart shaped face, fair skin and silky raven-black hair trailing past her hips, she was more gorgeous than all the students at the Elemental Academy combined. With a huge grin on her face, showcasing her perfectly even, blindingly white teeth, she bounced in front of me. However, after seeing my face, her huge hazel eyes became clouded with worry.
“Cassia, what’s wrong?”
I sighed, running my hand through my hair. “Nothing. It’s just my father again.”
Rose peered at me anxiously. “You know, he really shouldn’t push you so hard… It’s not fair for you.”
I looked at her, surprised. My soft-spoken, timid best friend would never contradict the head of Clans like this normally. Knowing that she worried for me warmed my heart. With a slight smile, I replied, “It can’t be helped. I have to beat the Raindrop Clan. This is what I’ve been training for my whole life.”
“Yeah. I have to win.”
“… But, Cassia—“
“No, Rose.” I turned to face her, voice loud, my eyes flashing with a hard expression. “I have to win.”
Rose’s face crumpled and her small shoulders sagged. “Okay”, she whispered softly, looking down at the ground. I immediately felt like a load of hot coals should have hit me on the head.
“I’m sorry, Rose. I didn’t mean to… snap at you like that.” I put a hand on her small shoulder. I had almost forgotten what Rose went through just a few years ago.
It was another typical day in my 13th summer, with the sun beating down mercilessly onto my shoulders.
Breathing heavily, with heat radiating from my body and sweat streaming down my tanned face, I leaned on a tree trunk for support. “Father, please. May I go into the forest for some meditation?” I was just desperate for a break. My father’s broad shoulders stiffened as he turned around. He was still as handsome as he was in his youth, only with a few lines in his face and streaks of silver in his hair. With his thick eyebrows and beard, cuttingly sharp amber eyes, face permanently set in a frown, and muscles bulging, he looked like the Fire God reincarnated. I flinched, as he used those all-knowing eyes in order to scan my face. Giving a mighty sigh, he turned back around and motioned for me to go.
Relieved, I staggered onto my feet and began to walk towards the forest. When I was just out of hearing range of my father, I veered off-course onto the path towards the town center. I fingered the coins that I kept in my pocket, thinking happily of the ice-cream that I would buy for myself. Humming, I walked past stores and merchants on the street. “I’ll take the shortcut”, I decided, not wanting to make my father suspicious of how long I was gone. Entering the dark, narrow alleyway, I heard distant laughter… and crying? My heart was suddenly plagued with a terrible weight as realization slowly dawned on me. My footsteps quickened, along with my heartbeat, as I ran towards the source of the noise. I came into an open space surrounded with stone. There were four people: A girl around my age, sobbing with her face in her hands on the ground, two boys laughing hysterically and pointing at the source of the ruckus: An older boy with a flaming bunny doll in his hand. Quickly, I assessed the situation. Even then, my mind was trained to analyze. I realized that the doll must be the girl’s possession and the boys were destroying it.
“Please…. Please give me Willy back…”, the girl whispered softly, lips quivering in fear, hiccupping as her tears choked her.
“Shut up!”, the older boy barked as he looked down on her. Immediately, the girl shut up.
Something flared inside of me. Although I was damaged and injured from my training, my muscles began to coil and I could feel the earth calling to me, the fire just at the tip of my fingers, waiting to be called upon. With swift steps, I walked towards the older boy with my fists held at my sides. Hearing the footsteps, he turned around.
“What do you wa—“
I grabbed his head with a vice grip, cutting off the rest of his words. Slowly, I let the fire build up inside of me.
“I-It’s hot! Stop it!” His arms flailed at his sides trying to gain a grip on me, but I avoided them with ease. My fingers glowed softly as the temperature increased. I glanced over at his two minions who were now looking at me with fear, while the girl looked up from her hands, confused at the turn of events.
“Return the doll.”, I said sweetly, tightening my grip. “Now.”
Yelping, the older boy let go of the bunny doll, extinguishing the fire. I immediately let go. With a horrified look on his face, the older boy fled as his minions quickly followed. Carefully picking up the charred remains of the former Willy the bunny, I held it out to the girl.
“Are you okay?”
She flinched. My loud voice must have surprised her. This time, with a softer voice, I asked, “Are you feeling okay?”
Looking up at me with huge hazel eyes, brimming with shining, unshed tears, she sniffled. “Yes.”
I smiled, helping her up. After dusting her off and examining the burnt doll, I fingered the coins in my pocket. Resolving my mind, my lips curved up in a slight smile.
“Let’s go get you a new doll.”
Ever since then, Rose and I were best friends. She became more confident in herself, standing by my side. However, when someone’s voice became loud and too assertive, she would always shut down, allowing herself to get walked over.
Feeling bad, I plastered a smile on my face. Linking my arms with hers, I flashed a grin at her.
“Hurry up or we’ll both be late, Rose!”
Rose looked up at me with a tentative smile. “Okay.”
Shaking myself out of the memories of my first meeting with Rose, I climbed up the steps towards the Elemental Academy. The daunting, impressive metal gate decorated with floral designs twisting up the sides of the rails greeted Rose and me as we reached the top of the stone stairs. In the middle of the gate was a huge lock in the shape of a tree; The lock that could only be opened by the Head of Clan’s key. The key that would soon be in my possession after I win the tournament. However, the gate was open now, so Rose and I entered smoothly. See, the Elemental Academy is separated into two… factions, you could say. One faction is the Phoenix clan and the other faction is the Raindrop clan. Although we all take the same classes, we are separated socially and mentally. It’s taboo for a Phoenix member to be caught with a Raindrop member or vice versa. Not that that would happen. As I walked into the marble hallways, I could immediately see the different groups.
The Phoenix clan was characterized by their warm color choices in hair, eyes, and clothes. They were a sea of red, orange, and yellow that had a fiery glow around them. On the other hand, the Raindrop clan was known for their cool color choices; they had waves of students wearing green, blue, and purple. They are more often calm and collected, instead of passionate and hot-tempered like us Phoenixes. Naturally, the Phoenix faction was led by me, Cassia Evermore, while the Raindrop faction was led by Skye Watering.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Cassia, how are you?”
I smiled, basking in the warmth of friendship my fellow clan members showered upon me. They were my comrades, my allies since birth. I stretched, feeling completely at ease and finally at peace from the chaos of my home. Still smiling, I caught something move in the corner of my eye.
There was Skye.
As usual, he was in the center of a circle of Raindrop Clan members. Cool, calm, and collected, he leaned against a wooden door of a classroom nonchalantly. His tall, lean frame sloped gracefully towards the wall as his careful fingers brushed aside a lock of golden hair. His hair was full and bright, silky and smooth as the individual strands glistened in the fluorescent lights. As he talked and laughed, flashing those perfectly even teeth, his golden eyes, so rich in depth and texture with speckles of shades of yellow, sparkled with mischief and joy. His deep, baritone voice was easily separated from the hall of voices because of its unusual clarity and ring.
Grudgingly, I had to accept that he was a good leader. More than anyone, Skye was the calm and collected leader who managed to organize everyone together in a quiet fashion and get things running smoothly. He had an aura of self-confidence about him that made the clan members of Raindrop gravitate around him.
“CRASHING THROUGH!” a clear voice rang through the hallways. I quickly diverted my eyes toward the cause of the commotion. My ears picked up the roar of a wave at sea. But… how could that be possible? Soon, I could make out a Raindrop clan boy sliding through the door on his own magic-made wave straight towards me.
“Cassia!” Rose cried, hands stretching towards me. But it was too late. She was too slow. There was no way anything could reach me by the time the wave crashed over me.
My legs froze while all my instincts screamed at me to run away. As he got closer and closer, the young boy on the wave’s sapphire eyes widened in surprise as he recognized who I was. His handsome face contorted in pain in the attempts of stopping the wave before it could get to me. But the wave was crashing closer, and closer… I squeezed my eyes shut, preparing for the worst.
Something warm and big pressed over me as the wave crashed over my head. Somehow, it managed to cover all of me, keeping my clothes wonderfully dry. Somehow, I felt safe and protected in this embrace. Like no matter what came at me in the future, I could face it just with this warmness inside my chest. A feeling I had yearned for so long. Keeping one eyes closed, I looked up and saw a pair of shining, golden eyes staring at me through his now, thoroughly wet, blonde bangs. His mouth was curved in a slight smile as he looked into my widened, amber eyes.
“Careful, princess. You might need to touch up on your reflexes before the big competition.”
My feathers bristled at his comment and old raging temper flaring up again, I pushed him off me roughly.
“Thanks, Skye. But I could have handled that on my own.” I growled, glaring intensely into those teasing eyes.
“Sure, Cassia. As long as you’re okay.” Skye replied with his usual calm voice, with a hint of amusement in his crinkled eyes and curving mouth. Turning around, he addressed the raven black haired boy that was on the wave.
Exasperated, Skye scolded him. “Noah… You know you shouldn’t be riding your waves to school, nor should you be conjuring any magic during school hours.”
With a healthy tan, silky black locks that were just a bit too long, arrogant, yet playful sapphire blue eyes, and handsome face features, the boy that was on the wave looked up from the ground.
“Sorry, buddy. But I couldn’t resist! That wave was awesome!” Noah grinned, replying carelessly.
Skye, shaking his head but laughing quietly, held out his hand to Noah. Noah grasped his hand firmly and pulled himself up. Turning around, Skye focused his attention on someone next to me.
“Rose, were you hit at all by the wave?” Skye asked, sincerely. His hands found Rose’s, as his worried golden eyes scanned Rose’s body for any signs of wetness. Bewildered, Rose gently shook out of his hold.
“I’m fine, thanks to you Skye.” Rose replied shyly, a hint of a blush creeping up on her cheeks, looking up between her suddenly annoying long lashes.
Shocked at Rose’s blush, I pulled Rose by her arm back to my side, staring hard at Skye who didn’t seem to notice because he was still staring at Rose. There was no way I would let my innocent Rose become acquainted with Skye, the devil in disguise. He was the enemy. He was my rival. If he tried to take Rose, I would not go easy on him.
A group of Noah’s fan girls surrounded him as he began to brush himself off. Sauntering confidently towards me, he said, “I’m sorry about just now, Cassia. I guess my magic was just too powerful.” He flashed a grin.
“Maybe you should learn to control it better then.” I replied frostily, narrowing my eyes at him. My eyes hardened into amber shards as they cut into his falling face.
“Let’s go, Rose.” I pulled Rose along with me away from the Raindrop clan.
Nothing good would come from hanging around that crowd.