Rain was scarce in the center of our world. I distinctly remember that it poured that night. The streets were silent, void of anyone else. Everyone was tucked away in the safety and warmth of their homes. Puddles pooled over indents in the road, spots that had been worn away by wooden wheels and horse hooves, and the few carriages that were shuffling along splashed over them, sending sprays of cold water across the cobblestone.
The empty streets were easy to travel through. My clothing was soaked, the fabric clinging to my skin with desperation. With nimble steps, I ducked behind the tall, marble doors of the Capitol building, shutting them quickly behind me. Heat from the fire-lit hearth washed over my shivering form, bringing relief from the weather. I shook water from my hair and sat by the fire to dry off.
My palms rested against the cold, smooth stone floor. Every sound I made echoed in the cavernous hallways. I was alone. With both hands, I wrung out my hair, feeling water drip down my elbows and onto the floor. I flicked a finger upward, watching the flames flicker in protest before growing. The wood inside cracked, giving away and sending embers into the air. They danced, twirling and swaying before fading and falling back onto the ground.
I sighed, leaning back on my hands. There wasn't much left to do but wait.
It was not long before I heard loud, commanding footsteps behind me. I rose to my feet and turned, to greet whoever approached. A tall, rather frail woman acknowledged me, nodding her head. I always was surprised, amazed even, by how her forehead had remained lineless over the years. Despite this, she had the deposition and posture of an ancient being. A thousand years of knowledge perched upon her shoulders, weighing them down. Her light blue eyes rung with inhuman power, and a stiff bun of grey-streaked blonde hair sat neatly at the very top of her head. I bowed to her instantly, resting on one knee and turning my head towards the floor.
"Your Majesty," I addressed formally. "How shall I assist you?"
"There is no time for that nonsense," the Queen waved her hand impatiently. The fire cracked softly in response; as if it recognized the full extent of her power. The Queen glanced quickly at it. Her gaze flicked back to my form, dripping in rain-soaked clothes. With the snap of her fingers, the water was extracted from them. Droplets dangled in the air, shivering and twisting as if they were in pain. The Queen threw them into the fire, and with an angry hiss, the flames died. Darkness suddenly cloaked the room, but a faint glow from the Queen's crystal dress provided us with light. "Have the others arrived?" The Queen asked. Her voice was blade-sharp. She was in a foul mood.
"No, your Majesty." I said. The Queen sighed and muttered something to herself. She turned and starting walking down the hallway, towards the courtroom. Her strides were long, and I almost had to jog to keep up with her. The heels of her shoes clicked against the floor with a dignified importance. I walked behind her, making sure to keep out of her path.
"They're always late," the Queen said, more to herself than I. I shrunk away from her. The iridescent dress shone brighter, the result of her strong emotion. The hall was completely illuminated with the mysterious light-blue glow. The air in the room began to get colder, and I shivered, running my hands over my arms and feeling the raised bumps along them. My breath became visible-short puffs of white cloud spurted from my nose. "They always irresponsible, and immature and unreliable!" The Queen stomped her foot, and a bolt of ice sprouted across the floor. "Oh," She said, noticing the air. I clenched my eyes shut, unable to escape the glaring light.
"Y-y-our Majesty," I stuttered, feeling my body grow numb. "Perhaps you s-s-shouldn't let your emotions get away from you like that."
"You are right, Ceara." The Queen sighed. As she calmed, the room temperature returned to normal and I stopped shivering so violently. The Queen watched me carefully, then she chuckled a little as she turned away and started walking again. "Who would have thought that flame would be so predictable." I heard her say. Her words left an odd feeling in my chest. Predictable was not the usual word used to describe me.
I followed the Queen from a distance, not wanting to provoke something unmanageable. We walked into the courtroom, where we took our seats. The Queen held an old, wooden gavel in her hands as she waited for the others to arrive.
"If I may," I rose my hand. "Why have you called us together today?"
The Queen sighed, looking very exhausted. She closed her pale eyes, mulling over which words to use to answer me. For a second, I thought she might have been asleep. She was frozen, almost, in that position. I had never seen her worn down as much as she was. Her true age was finally evident, after decades of ruling over our world. It worried me, seeing this new side of her."I only want to explain this once," she said after a few minutes. The restlessness in her voice unnerved me. "So we will wait for the others." The Queen's aura was different. I felt an odd disturbance in her power. Something flickered there, something strange and new. I frowned, unable to detect anything further.
Only a few minutes later, the rest of the element-weavers arrived. They took their seats without strong protest or conversation. We all sat and watched our Queen attentively, wondering when she was going to start. Finally, she stood.
"I have called the greatest powers together today. They sit in this room in harmony and peace, creating the ultimate balance. The Roaring Fires of the South..."
I looked into the Queen's eyes as she looked into mine. I saw something I had never seen before. Those blue eyes showed sadness, and regret. I had a gut-wrenching feeling. She turned away from me before I could see anything else.
"The Brutal Ice of the North..."
Eirwen sat up straighter in her seat. Eirwen was a tall girl, one of the tallest in our council. She was extraordinarily thin, like a living skeleton, with knobby elbows and pale complexion. Eirwen had only been a weaver for little over a decade, so she was not as experienced as the others were.
"The Vibrant Gardens and Wild Creatures of the West..."
Hua's lips formed a small smile and her expression softened. She was one of the oldest weavers; therefore, she was able to remain calm during stressful situations. The mastery of her element made up for any intelligence she lacked. In her human life, I believed her to be a warrior, or something of the sort. Her skill with a blade and her stealth was quite impressive.
Rima, on the other hand, was little more than a child. A bright child, but a child nonetheless. She was a happy young thing, and she seemed well off, especially with Hua to look out for her. Rima giggled at her recognition. Her blonde curls tumbled around her round face.
"The Gracious Light of the Sun and the Mysterious Ways of the Black Night..."
Charnette was the light-weaver, as well as the darkness weaver. The two elements went hand-in-hand, as there is no light without darkness. Her appearance differed, depending on which element she used. Charnette preferred to remain dark-haired, however, with deep onyx eyes. Glasses sat crooked on her nose. She was the most intelligent weaver, though her form of wit derived from books and education, instead of experience.
"The Calm Waters of the East..."
Nerine wore a blank expression. But as the Queen walked past her, she looked worried. Nerine had dark brown hair and sea green eyes. She was quiet and reserved most of the time. She, like Rima, had been changed when she was young.
"The Strong Earth of Below..."
Avanti, the weaver of Earth, sand and stone stared at the Queen with warm eyes. She was a tall, thickly built woman, and had deep brown eyes and hair. Her skin was tanned, like the color of rich coffee. She was intimidating to most, but was good-natured. Avanti was the oldest of all the weavers, besides our Queen. She watched over the most of us, like a mother duck would watch over her ducklings.
"The Changing Winds of the Skies,"
The Air-weaver was a girl named Avira. Not many took her seriously, as she spent most of her time meditating, or cracking dry jokes. Not many knew that she was blind though, and this fact commanded respect from nearly everyone she met.
"And the All-Knowing Mind..."
Nirvana, the controller of the mind only looked up. Her silver hair was straight and loose. Her black eyes shone like the backs of desert beetles in the sunlight. Nirvana was the most dangerous of all the element-weavers, since her power could be used to manipulate easily. I often speculated her loyalty to the Queen. She hid behind a smirk, like most days, and it sent shivers down my back.
"I have called you today with very important news." Glances were shared around the room. Silent questions circled the air, begging to be answered. The Queen gave us one final intake of breath before speaking again. "I am looking for an heir." She finished.
The room erupted with surprised gasps. The Queen had no hope of talking over the other nine women. Everyone argued over who should become the next Queen. I watched her as she sat. I noticed how much effort it took for her to move and speak. Her eyes were dull and a curl of hair came loose from her bun. In that moment, I realized it. Our Queen, the ruler of everything and life as we knew it, was dying.