“May I present my daughter Lisendra to you, Mistress Chiandara?“ my mother asked politely when I entered the room.
The Guildmistress of the Elementarians was an important person, so I dropped a hasty curtsey – even if it was not my wish to be here.
She looked at me sternly and oddly welcoming at the same time. “You have magical abilities, your mother told me.” Her mild and melodic voice as she made this statement surprised me. I had always imagined the Mages of the Four Elements to be cool and dismissive of others.
“My mother spoke the truth.” I admitted grudgingly.
“Well, we will see about that as soon as you take the test.” The Guildmistress replied. “Will you stay with us if you have the power?”
“Do I have much of a choice?” I replied curtly. “Untrained I am a menace not only to myself but to everyone around me.”
“We could strip you of your power. Then you could continue to lead a normal life.”
I considered. I would stay with my mother till the day I married some farmer. Then I’d bear him a dozen children while caring for his household. Brrr! Not a prospective I was looking forward to. And finally I was not dead set against becoming a mage. It was just that I hated having no choice about it. I wanted to choose my future on my own, not just have a choice thrust upon me by my mother or even worse by fate, not by my long-since-dead father nor by any other Elementarian!
“May I take the test now?” I asked politely.
Mistress Chiandara smiled and beckoned to the boy waiting at her right side slightly behind her in the corner. She gestured for him to hand me the cup he was holding. Then she told me to sit down in the comfortable armchair at her left before drinking the dark liquid. Although the potion was revoltingly bitter I downed it in one single gulp, not without making a grimace, however, as the the Guildmistress’ renewed smile showed me. I leaned back in my chair and while everything around me started to sink into darkness, I still clearly heard Chiandara’s voice as she asked my mother a question that appeared definitely odd to my ears: “You know about the price?” And my mother’s slightly sad reply: “Never again will she be known as my daughter. – It is hard for a mother to give up her child, and even more so if it is her only one. But Lisendra’s talents are nothing but wasted in the only life I can offer her.” “And if her gift is as great as you make it to be, she is needed here.” The Guildmistress added in a quiet voice. I had the feeling that she sounded somewhat melancholic before the content of her words sank in: They needed me? Me? That was a new feeling. Perhaps I really would like it here…
And suddenly I was somewhere else, on a hazy, dreamlike plain, all alone. Dreamlike? I laughed at myself. It was a dream after all, wasn’t it? On this plain, around me there was nothing but four doors. At both sides of me, in front of me and behind me. Nothing else! No walls! It seemed really odd to me: four doors in the middle of the landscape with no apparent need for them. Cautiously I walked around one of the doors. There was nothing behind it, only the same grey plain as far as I could see.
I went back to the centre and considered for a moment. What might be the sense of those doors? Were they aligned to the four cardinal points? I could see no sun or stars, however, that might have confirmed or refuted my speculation. The sky was just as grey and seemingly formless as the ground I stood upon. For an instant I kept tranquilly in the centre ere I finally decided to try one of the doors. I resolutely turned into the direction I assumed was East and flung open the door without any further hesitation. But promptly I drew back shocked and very much afraid. There was nothing but water on the other side, only water – as far as I could see! I love water, I always have adored this element. I swam and dove better than all kids in our village, even the older boys never felt at home in the water as much as me; but now – as I could see nowhere an end to the water, not the least stretch of land – I was afraid, very much afraid. By Wessna, that was too much water even for me! I hope I have not offended you, Virgin Goddess of Spring by drawing back from your element but this is just too much water! No, I just could not choose this door. Hastily I threw the door shut.
My heart beat fiercely as I slowly went onwards – in the direction the sun turns – to the next door which I opened a lot more cautiously. Nevertheless I closed it quite as fast! Fire! Nothing but fire! I would suffocate and burn! Fire! Although I was fascinated by this element and was able to stare into flames for hours at a time without growing tired of it in the least – yes, occasionally I had even managed to lighten a fire completely without flint and steel – I knew very well of its dangers! Lyeto, Fighter of Summer, pardon me for disdaining your element but I would not survive it! No, of my own free will I would not throw myself into a sea of flames! I took a deep breath. What if I didn’t like any of the doors? Would I stay here for all eternity? Would I be sent away from the College of the Elementarians in scorn? They would spurn me in the village, laugh at me and look at me full of scorn if I failed this test!
I swallowed hard before hesitatingly walking towards the next door. For some unexplainable reasons I shied away from opening the door lying – judging by feel – in the west. So I passed it by and went to the fourth door first. And yet again I jumped back straight away after cautiously peeking inside. Nothing but a cloudy sky! Air! If I walked out here, I’d fall like a stone! Would I fall forever? Or I would I crash to the ground far below that I couldn’t see from here? I shuddered. I couldn’t imagine Ossenyu guarding me, seeing as he was not only Lord of the Air and Winter but of Death as well! A cold shiver ran down my back at that thought! Determinedly I shut the door, turned my back to it and walked back to the last one as yet unopened. I knew what I would find here: the last of the four elements: Earth!
I opened it and entered purposefully. Why hesitate? I had already ruled out the other three, and Mother Syemya, the Lady of Fall, would certainly watch out for me. I stood on dry, cracked earth. Now only did I realize that I was barefoot. I felt the heat of the parched earth, it hadn’t rained for quite some time obviously. Yet, in some way I was oddly connected with the earth. Like a tree I was rooted deeply in it without being restricted in my movements in the least, however. I was as of one with earth and I belonged to the earth; I was part of it. The sun was shining. I was at ease, completely relaxed, I was at home. I was in harmony with everything around me. Was this the place I was supposed to find? Had this already been the test? Or was there more to come? From one moment to the next I realized that I wasn’t alone anymore: a seriously wounded man lay at my feet. Never had I learned to heal. Still I bent over as if it were completely natural to me and healed him. Had this been the exam? As I was thinking this I was suddenly surrounded by people. “She has healed him! She has healed him!” But there were other shouts mixed in, accusing shouts: “Witch! Witch!” What place had I come to? I shivered slightly. Yet I couldn’t but feel their thirst. It was quite some time since the last rain. They needed water. The earth needed water. What was there for me to do but to call for water? “Water!” I shouted, “Water!” and the water came: it started to rain, softly at first, then heavier. But instead of being glad and feasting me as their saviour, the people shrunk away from me. The anxious and accusing shouts grew louder and more frequent: “A witch! There is a witch among us!” Those shouts disturbed my concentration and the rain stopped – as abruptly as it had started. Ere I could do anything, they had bound me hand and feet; they meant to burn me at the stake! My eyes grew wide in fear as I realized this. And already the fire was burning merrily when they threw me in. What would happen if I died here? Would I die for real?
Oddly enough, however, the flames burned away the ropes I had been bound with but they didn’t harm me. Just for an instant I lost my fear and became as one with the fire, in the same harmony I had felt with earth before, no, stronger even! I was fire, through and through. I was at ease, all fear forgotten. But then the shouts of the people broke my concentration yet again, and I was afraid of staying in the fire, very much afraid. What would help me against the fire, I asked myself. Water, of course! “Water!” I shouted, “Water!”, and the water came: it started raining again. It didn’t surprise me that – instead of drenching everything and extinguishing the fire – the water warmed and returned to the sky. And me, I grew light and lighter, extraordinary light, and rose up to the sky alongside the water. Up here, however, I didn’t feel well at all. I was high up in the air, defenceless against the winds. What if I should fall? I was afraid of those heights, very much afraid. And without thinking I called for water again. “Water!”, I shouted, “Water!”, and water came: a third time it started raining, and together with the rain I fell down softly into a big ocean where I merged with water. I became one with the water in complete harmony, stronger even than with the fire. I gave myself up to the water entirely. I was water, surrounded by earth, warmed by the fire of the sun and caressed by the winds. I had reached absolute harmony, fulfilment, I had found my destiny. I was completely at ease, at peace with myself and the world. I was happy and relaxed. This was what I had been meant to find, I knew it… At that very moment the Guildmistress’ voice woke me up: “I welcome thee, Lisendra ep Irion – unless you should choose to return home with your mother, Lisendra nya Riyan.” Lisendra ep Irion. I cautiously tested my new name. No more Lisendra daughter of Riyan. From now on I would be called Lisendra of the Water. I liked my new name, and soon I would have another chance to be one with the water. I stood up, straight and tall. Smiling I declared: “My home is here.”
Lisendra cautiously peeked into the room. Mistress Chiandara had told her to come here. There were so many people in there. And she didn’t know a single one of them. She shrank back. What if they didn’t like her? And just called her a country pumpkin? There was but one other girl and three boys. She just hoped they would not prove to be as annoying as those in her natal village. She took a deep breath. She bit her lip and entered hesitatingly. “Hello,” she said shyly.
“Hello!”, they replied warmly. “Welcome. You must be the new one, Lisendra.” She nodded anxiously.
“Come, sit with me!” offered the girl who had just as red hair as Lisendra herself. “I am Talliana, Talliana ep Isslon.” After a short pause she asked eagerly, “What is your element?”
She definitely has the temperament of fire mage, Lisendra thought to herself. Lively as quicksilver and just as passionate.
Aloud she said, “Water. Lisendra ep Irion.” And mustered the girl covertly: red hair, brown eyes, freckled, scrawny.
The boys introduced themselves as Yesukko ep Isslon, Tóbinar an Riffo and Elinyo an Dyuro. Her mind reeled. She would never keep those names straight, much less their elements. She shrank back into herself as they flooded her with questions. “Where are you from? When did you first find out about your abilities? How did you get here?”
Elinyo took pity on her. He had obviously noted her pale face as she withdrew more and more. “Let her settle in a bit before you frighten her off with all your questions. He smiled encouragingly at her. “You will see: Just a few days and you won’t even be able to imagine ever having lived anywhere else.”
She definitely couldn’t imagine that happening but the arrival of their teacher kept her from having to think up a reply. Lisendra covertly looked the woman over. She seemed to be around thirty. Not extraordinarily tall, she still carried herself with lots of authority. Without being a grand beauty she was quite pretty with auburn hair and hazel eyes.
She smiled warmly at Lisendra. “You must be Lisendra ep Irion. Welcome to the Academy of the Four Elements. I am Silva ep Isslon leso Marinyii. I knew your father quite well. You resemble him a lot.”
Lisendra looked at Silva. Why had the thought that many people here might have known her father never occurred to her? She smiled back cautiously. “How was he? Did you like him?”
Silva looked Lisendra deep into the eyes. “He was an extraordinary man, the best Air Mage of all times.” She glanced out the window for a moment, then back at Lisendra. “Yes, I liked him. Very much in fact.” She looked wistful for an instant. “If it hadn’t been for your mother and the fact that he obviously loved her more than he could ever love anyone else, I might well have been your mother. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s get onwards to our lesson…” Lisendra looked oddly curious and very wistful. Her mother had rarely talked about her father His sudden death hurt her too much, even after twelve years. So Lisendra only knew that he had fallen madly in love with her mother when he passed through their village and had married her even though she was a Garukka – as Elementarians tended to call those that were not called to magic. And she had quite often heard that it was him who was responsible for her odd name. He had been quite adamant that she be named Lisendra. He had asked her mother to swear it on the Perinyian before he left on his final, fatal mission. It was an odd name. In all of history Lisendra only knew of one other person by that name, Lisendra the Elder who had founded the Elementarians.
She started guiltily as she heard Silva say her name. “So, Lisendra, what do you already know of the Guild?” She just hoped the teacher hadn’t said anything important. “Well, not much. I know of course what the names mean. The first part defines our primary element. And the second one the number of elements we mastered in the final exam at the end of our studies.” She frowned as she thought what else she had heard. “But I think that’s it.” She glanced at Silva apprehensively. Would she be sent back home in disgrace now? Or at least chided for her lack of knowledge?
Silva, however, smiled at her. “Well, I am sure you have dozens of questions. What is it you want to know? Your year mates –“ With these words she gestured at the others in the room “and me will gladly reply to all of your questions. This first class is Orientation after all. We can’t go on to magic before you know why you are here after all.”
Lisendra glanced around. “How came they to be my year mates?”
Yesukko didn’t even wait for Silva to design him to speak. “Because we all were tested in the past two months. They tend to give the basic lessons in groups. Only as we progress in our magic the schooling will be one on one.”
Lisendra nodded. That made lots of sense. Why explain the theory five times if you could just explain it once for all of the new ones?
“So, what else is there you need explained?” Silva asked gently.
Lisendra’s eyes sparkled. Her face lightened up. Their teacher really meant it. Finally she would get answers to all those burning questions that had been with her since she had been accepted into the Academy of the Four Elements. “So, what are the duties of the Elementarians? And why do we renounce the name of our mothers or fathers when we come here? Isn’t this just an Academy of Magery like any other? And how long will it take me to learn the use of my magic? And is it true that we outlive non-Mages?”
Silva laughed at her flood of questions, then she turned to the other students. “Can any of you answer some of Lisendra’s questions?”
Four hands rose eagerly. Lisendra looked at Silva as she chose one of the students to answer. With a hint of smile she said in a melodious voice, “Okay, Talliana, what can you tell us?” She sounded like she was sure Talliana knew a lot and was only waiting to be asked to start with it. Yes, Lisendra thought, she would definitely like this teacher. Again she was surprised: Elementarians were all but cold as she had expected. They were warm and welcoming. If all were like Mistress Chiandara, Silva and her year mates, she would like it here.
Attentively she listened to Talliana’s explanations: “We are more than just mages. We could be called the Guardians of Kolliins. We take care that magic stays out of the wrong hands. Along with magic we are taught ethics. So some of us might be sent out to deal with those who use magic to do harm. But our tasks vary very much. Sometimes we are healers, sometimes we go to dispense justice. Sometimes we clear up mysteries, other times we will go to stop floods or other catastrophes. It could be resumed to: we do what needs to be done.”
Silva nodded. “Very good, Talliana. Elinyo, what can you add to this?”
“We renounce the name of our father – or our mother – to show that we owe allegiance only to the Guild – and the Crown of course. This severance of all ties to our family helps us to be impartial at all times.”
As Lisendra nodded, slowly understanding the sense of it, he went on. “Normally it takes seven years before we are allowed to take the final test which shows the number of elements we have mastered.”
That was a long time, Lisendra thought. But magic must be taught carefully and controlled very well. With a shudder she remembered the few times she had inadvertently called up fires or a thunderstorm when she was angry.
“Excellent.” Silva smiled at him, then turned to the next pupil. “Tóbinar! Can you reply to Lisendra’s last question?” “Yes, Elementarians tend to live a lot longer than other humans. We mature more slowly. I have heard we only reach full adult-hood around twenty-five. And when we reach thirty we seem to stop ageing. I have seen that with my parents. Both are full Elementarians. Although they are over seventy, they look like thirty.” He shrugged. “It seems to be the power or perhaps the use of magic. Most Elementarians reach one hundred and fifty years; and I have heard of some who reached two hundred.” He made big eyes as he said that as if he were unable to imagine that high an age. Lisendra listened attentively as he continued, “The previous Guildmaster – Ossenyu may care for his soul – even lived to a full three centuries. Can you imagine that? He had to wait for Mistress Chiandara to pass all exams so she could take over.” His eyes glowed. “Three centuries.” He repeated with an unbelieving shake of his head.
“Unless you are killed in the line of duty.” Silva cut in soberly. She looked at Lisendra with sad eyes. “Like your father – and many others.” Her face darkened before she managed to shake the mood off. “And the risk of getting killed is quite high. All our power is balanced by one great vulnerability.” She looked at them seriously, one after another. “Have you heard of our sensitivity to metal?” She glanced questioningly in the direction of Lisendra and only went on as she saw Lisendra’s helpless shrug. “Well, our magic uses energy, and metals somehow carry the same energy. So if you were to touch something made of metal while drawing on the power of the four elements you would get burned badly. And if you are wounded by it even one little scratch of it might well prove fatal.”
Lisendra paled, her eyes wide in shock. “All metals?” That was something she hadn’t heard before. Would her mother have been so insistent on her coming here if she had known?
“Yes, all of them. Although some – like silver for instance – are pretty harmless as long as you don’t touch them while doing magic. Others – like iron – will burn you even when not working.”
Lisendra bit her lips. She was very much afraid all of a sudden. Even a little scratch might kill her?
Silva was quiet for a moment to let this important truth sink in, then she continued. “There is something else you need to know. Even with all of your magic sometimes you won’t be able to help. Power is not everything. On some occasions even all your knowledge and magic will be too little.” She glanced in the difference with a sad expression as if remembering something unpleasant. Then she turned back and looked at Lisendra again. “And sometimes even if you could help, you will have to think carefully before you interfere.”
“Why? Shouldn’t we help anytime we can? Save lives?” What was Silva saying? What did she mean? If she were able to help, of course she would use her power to do so!
Their teacher sighed. “Yes, it seems so. But sometimes our meddling might make matters only worse.” She seemed to be considering for a moment. “Let me tell you a tale. A man once came to us with a desperate plea: his wife was dying and we were his only hope in curing her. Although my earth magic is very weak, and hence my healing rather inconsequential, I was the only one available to come with him. They really loved each other. I saw that at the first glance. But when I checked his aura I had a strong vision: she was not his soulmate but he would meet her in the near-future. He seemed to be one of the rare ones destined to find his true partner. Now what was I supposed to do? Save the life of his wife? And make the future miserable for them? Or let her die and have her death on my karma? And have him perhaps lose faith in the Elementarians?” She closed her eyes in remembered pain for an instant ere she continued. “Power is responsibility. You will have to choose again and again, and sometimes every choice will appear wrong. No matter what you do, you lose.”
The class was in awed silence; Lisendra bit her lips and looked down onto her hands. Would she one day have to make such a decision, too? It seemed like an awful thing to have to decide. To have the power of life or death? She had never considered that part of her magic. It had seemed like fun to her and glorious. She would save dozens of lives and they would hail her as their saviour. She didn’t know what to do or to say. She glanced at her year mates covertly. Was anyone going to say something?
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, Talliana raised her hand. “So what did you do?”
Silva sighed. “I prolonged her life by a couple of moons. I didn’t use any of my healing on her – not that I would have been able to heal her anyway. But I might have gotten some real healer to her in time. I just gave her some healing potions and also a few drugs that would make her death less painful. But to this day I know that I could have saved her. Her death is on my karma. And I was lucky. He didn’t blame it on me or the Elementarians. He was an extraordinary good and pious man. He accepted his fate. I am glad to know he found his soulmate and is happy with her now. But still it was an awful decision to have to make. And you might one day have to make another one like it.” She looked at her class, at every single one of them. She looked deep into their eyes. “Do you still want this kind of responsibility? You have heard of the risks. You have heard about the hard choices. Magic is not all it is made to be. Do you still want it? It could be blocked, and you still have the choice of going back to a normal life. Do you really want to become an Elementarian?”
For a moment there was silence, then all of them replied in chorus. “Yes!”
“At least we get to do something,” Lisendra added, “Even if our choices should prove wrong, even if we die, at least we have tried.”