Authors: Antony John
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Copyright Â© 2012 by Antony John
Map illustration copyright Â© 2012 by Steve Stankiewicz
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Elemental / by Antony John.
Summary: In a dystopian colony of the United States where everyone is
born with powers of the elements, water, wind, earth, and fire,
sixteen-year-old Thomas, the first and only child born without an
element seems powerless, but is he?
[1. Fantasy. 2. United StatesâFiction.] I. Title.
To Mollyâintrepid explorer of new worlds
hunder rattled the aging wooden cabins, but no one stopped to listen. There wasn't time for that. The coming storm was written in every distant flash of lightning, and in the sick, heavy clouds hanging over the ocean. The pelicans flying by in tight formation groaned in warning. Even the air tasted strange and unnatural.
So how had Kyte, Guardian of the Wind, missed it completely?
Usually Kyte predicted storms a day in advance. He'd tell us how strong the wind would be. With a Guardian of the Water, he'd warn how high the ocean would rise. And though I found it hard to imagine the clear blue sky roiling with clouds, and the usually calm ocean turned inside out, I knew better than to doubt him. It was his element, after all.
“Swell rising,” yelled Kyte. He crouched beside a stick planted firmly in the sand. It marked the highest point he expected the ocean to reach. As everyone turned to look, the water washed right over it and dragged it out to sea.
He closed his eyes. Tension carved lines in his face. He was engaging his element, but it had never looked so difficult before.
“Wind speed increasing,” shouted another Guardian.
“I know. It's
element,” exclaimed Kyte, as though he owned the wind itself, not just the ability to read it.
Meanwhile, my father stood side by side with my older brother, Ananias, at the colony's rainwater harvester. They looked alike: same thick, dark hair and serious expression. They conjured sparks from their fingertips, tiny flames that grew and combined into a white-hot glow. Ananias directed the heat onto a bent nail while our father straightened it and drove it back into the oak paneling. However bad the storm might be, we couldn't afford to lose our only water source.
All the Guardians were busy now, their elements in full effect. As the first and only child born without an element, I watched them enviously. I couldn't summon fire, unearth food, predict storms, or catch fish barehanded. But I could toss sandbags against the stilts supporting our cabin, and so I didâone after another, as my arms burned and sweat poured down my forehead.
“Shouldn't you be loading the evacuation canoes, Thomas?” Kyte's voice was low and threatening.
“Alice is taking the last bags now,” I said, pointing to the girl sprinting across the beachâsure-footed and powerfulâtwo bulky canvas bags slung across her shoulders.
He followed my eyes, and shouted: “Do you like having to do everything yourself, Alice?”
As she turned her head, the wind tousled her dark hair. She peered at Kyte from the corner of her eye, but she didn't answer.
“I'm talking to you, Alice!”
She dropped the bags. “Does it matter what I like?” Her eyes drifted to me, and she cocked an eyebrow. “Anyway, you've spent years trying to keep Thom and me apart. Why do you want him to help me now?”
Kyte's face reddened. “How dare you speak to a Guardian like that? You're not an Apprentice yet, remember.”
“And I hope I never will be.” She smiled. “Are we done now?”
The other Guardians stopped what they were doing, and watched with interest. Kyte obviously knew it too. He'd have to take actionâpunish Alice yet againâjust to save face. It was all so predictable.
Couldn't we have just one afternoon without Alice battling the Guardians head-on, when she could be spared their pointless attempts to tame her? The storm would be upon us soon. There wasn't time for this.
“Why do you think you missed this storm, Guardian Kyte?” I asked. The words came out quickly, a thinly veiled attempt to distract him. “Since your element is wind.”
Kyte's mouth twisted into a mocking smile. “Why? Did you foresee it before me, Thomas? Did you just forget to mention it to us?”
I sensed the Guardians' stares shifting to me. “I wasn't meaning to criticize. It's just strange. Almost like your element
didn'tÂ .Â .Â .”
“What? Like my element didn't
?” Kyte lifted a sandbag as though it weighed nothing and launched it several yards. “I'd think that you of all people would have more respect for the elements.”
Without a sound, my younger brother, Griffin, joined me. Being deaf, he'd learned to read the Guardians' body language better than anyone. Having him beside me should have been a warning to say nothing. But I'd only spoken up to save Alice.
“I'm just trying to understand.”
“And you think now is the time for that?” Kyte raised his hands toward the darkening sky. “Some of us have work to do, and not enough time to do it. Can you at least respect
My pulse raced. Anger coursed through me. “You wouldn't be in such a hurry if you'd predicted the storm like you're supposed to.”
“Until you have something to offer this colony,” he spat, “I suggest you keep your thoughts to yourself.”
“Exactly,” echoed my father. I hadn't heard him approach. He placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder, but his voice was loud and fierce. He fixed his eyes on Kyte. “After all, those with elements should always be allowed to speak.”
“True. And if Thomas discovers an element, I'll be sure to listen.”
“And how do you suggest he finds one?”
Kyte shrugged, but the mocking smile was back. “It's difficult, for sure. Especially so late in childhood.”
My father's grip tightened. Pain swept through me. “As things stand, he's nothing.”
“As you say,” returned Kyte smoothly.
I felt anger flash through my father's claw-like fingersâsharp enough to make me winceâand then he pulled away. I waited for him to come to my defense again, to match Kyte word for word. He'd supported me for sixteen years. I expected nothing less now. But when I looked at him, it was as if he was done fighting. Or worse, as if he agreed with Kyte.
The word hung in the air like a fork of lightning seen long after it has vanished. Of course it was difficult for Father to have a son with no elementâit was even harder for meâbut he'd always told me to be patient. Had he been lying all those years? Was
how he really felt?
There were only fifteen people in our colony, but every single one of them stood still and silent, eyes fixed uneasily on the ground.
My hands balled into fists by my sides. My heart beat wildly.
I can throw insults too,
I thought. I could've asked Kyte why his weather predictions were increasingly unreliable. I could've asked my father why his element was so much weaker than his oldest son's.
But I didn't say anything. Because in the end, they still had an element, and I didn't. Something was better than nothing.
I kept my head up and began to walkâquick, uneven strides that couldn't carry me away fast enough. My father called to me, but I didn't turn back. As soon as I crossed the dunes, I broke into a run. Sand slipped beneath me. I couldn't seem to get a grip on anythingâthe earth, my pulse, my life.
I didn't stop running until I reached the narrow woods that ran like a spine down the center of Hatteras Island. I placed my left hand against a pine tree and punched the trunk with my right. Mosquitoes landed on me, and I didn't flick them away. I closed my eyes and welcomed a different kind of pain.
“Are you all right?”
I spun around. Alice stood before me, bags still hanging from her shoulders. She must have run too, but she didn't even seem out of breath.
“Liar.” Her blue eyes blazed. She was a year younger than me, but that was easy to forget when she was angry. “Ignore them, Thom. Ignore them all.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Why? Because I have an element, and you don't?” She snorted. “I can barely conjure a spark, let alone make a fire. It's a pathetic excuse for an element, and you know it.”
“At least it's something.”
She dropped the bags and folded her long tan arms. Sinewy muscles showed through the dull coat of white sand. “When are you going to start fighting back?”
“I just did, remember?”
“I don't mean for me, or Griffin. I mean for
“Who should I be fighting? Kyte?”
“Anyone. Everyone. Go ahead and hurt them. Do it so they'll never look at you the same way again.”
“Is that how you got so popular?”
Alice just smiled. “See? So much anger inside you. You need to let it out.”
There was a rustle behind us. A girl stood beneath the canopy of a young tree. She fingered the ends of her long blond hair anxiously.
Alice huffed. “What a surprise. I didn't expect Kyte to send you so soon, Rose. I figured he had more important things to do than worry about Thom and me.”
“My father didn't send me.”
“Course not.” Alice retrieved her bags and walked away. She didn't look back.
Once Alice was out of sight, Rose knelt down on a bed of pine needles. She tugged the ends of her white tunic toward her knees, but the material rode up again. Her skin was smooth and pale, unblemished by scars. “My father shouldn't say those things to you,” she murmured, voice almost lost on the wind.
I sat down with my back against the trunk. “Have you told him that?”
She looked away. Suddenly I felt guilty instead of angry.
“Alice doesn't think an element is important,” I said. “But she's wrong. If I had yoursâif I could read water the way you doâeverything would be different.”
Unlike Alice, Rose didn't disagree. I was grateful for that. “You'll find your element,” she said, summoning a smile. “I'm sure of it.”
“Why do you keep saying that? You swam like a fish before you could walk. Elements reveal themselves early. Not when you're sixteen.”
Her smile never faltered. “Look at your brother. Griffin's right leg doesn't work properly. He has ears, but he can't hear. Maybe you have an element, and it just doesn't work.”
I wanted to believe her, but I'd already passed the age of Apprenticeship. There would be no silver lining to the cloud that had followed me my entire life.
A gust of wind bent the trees and scattered the needles. The first drops of rain came with it.
“I believe in you, Thomas,” she said. “Always have. I want you to know that.”
For a moment, she held my gaze, and I knew that she was telling the truth. I might be nothing to the colony, but I mattered to Rose. Her fingers drifted to the wooden bangle on her left wrist. She twisted it around and around. It was what she always did when she was nervous.
She had carved the bangle herself. Just as she'd sewn the band of white cloth that held her hair back from her face, and the pretty linen tunic that fit her so differently than the ones stitched together by the Guardians.
My pulse quickened again, but this time there was no hint of anger. Instead I felt something even more powerful. Something I'd been feeling more and more over the past two years. Something that left me as empty as having no element.
“We should go,” I said quickly, before my face gave me away.
I pulled myself up and offered my hand to Rose. She didn't take it, though. Then again, no one but my father touched me, or held me. It was as if having no element was contagious. And who could risk losing their greatest power?
Rose stood now. She was much shorter than me, but looking at her was like watching myself: same unsure expression, same way of shuffling her feet like she wasn't sure what to do with them. Was she thinking the same thing as me too? Deep down, did she want to touch me as much as I wanted to touch her?
“You're right,” she said, breaking the connection. “We should go.”
No. An element wasn't the only thing I'd never have.