(published December 27, 2011, not sure when posted on Gil’s blog)
By Julia Koslowsky
My name is Pia. I live in the land of Unam and there’s really nothing special about me. My eyes are an ordinary blue-green. My hair is black, a rare but not unheard of color in my native region. Absolutely nothing separates me from others. Nothing except a trait some deem a miracle.
I have elemental powers.
The fact that I was born at all was a miracle of its own. I was born on the coldest, darkest day of winter. The wolves howled their lamentations as snowstorms swept into their rocky caves on the mountain crags. Hin and Karah, my parents, were traveling to the northern regions to escape the oppression in the east. Or so I’ve been told. The combined elements of the harsh weather and the strain of the journey caused my mother to go into labor when she was barely six months along. Stumbling upon a miner’s shack by complete chance, my father carried her inside, trying to keep her as warm and comfortable as possible. He was sure the baby inside his wife would die, as my birth was too early for me to survive. My father tried his best to keep my mother alive, but after twenty hours of hard labor, my mother was close to bleeding to death. The old miner had left to find help in the nearest village, which was ten leagues away.
The miner returned with a young man with bronze skin. The man could see my mother was about to die. He didn’t tell my father this. After instructing my father to gather a certain mountain plant found only in caves, he kept my mother alive long enough for her to give birth to a baby girl. Me.
“What will she be called?”
Karah drew in giant breaths of the freezing air, knowing they would be her last. “P-p….Pia.” she gasped.
The bronze man nodded, smiling. “So she will be named.”
The bronze man placed a warm hand on my bare chest and breathed gently on my face. As small as I was, as undeveloped as my body still remained, I grew in those precious seconds. My fuzzy hair turned a raven black and I began to cry.
“Would you like to see your daughter?”
Karah let out a soft sob as she nodded and stretched out her arms, the life already draining out of her.
“She has your eyes.”
Cradling the child close, Karah’s heart ached for the life she would never be able to share with her daughter. She shoved Pia into the man’s arms.
“Take her. Please. Take…. care of her. My… husband…. he doesn’t… he can’t….” she stopped to breathe deeply, determined to make her last words matter. “You have… magic. She is alive…. by that… magic…..promise… me.” Karah gripped the man’s hand with all her remaining strength. “She can’t… her father…”
“I swear I will protect her and keep her safe, but I am afraid her life won’t always be pleasant and easy. My life is a dangerous one.” he spoke quickly, sensing the woman in front of him had very little time left.
Karah stroked her daughter’s face, tears streaming down her cheeks. “As long…. as… she… lives…”
And my mother breathed her last.
The bronzed man swiftly wrapped me in woolen cloths, instructing the old miner to relate to my father the conversation between my mother and himself. Then he left the shack and the North. No one knew it that day, but when he breathed life into me, I had been given a power, an inner flame.
My earliest memories were of a mansion in the southern region of Unam, where the air radiated with the sun’s heat, and the perfume of the fruit trees could be smelled for miles. The bronzed man was always with me in those memories. He kept good the promise he had made my mother. We had the best of times as we fished, ran, and swam the days away. He taught me to use and control my gift of fire, to see the flames as beauty and life rather than destruction. Until the summer of my twelfth year, I didn’t have a care or worry in the world.
But on that day, the light turned to black fire, and the happy region I called my home was attacked. The bronze man, the only family I had ever known, rushed me into a small room beneath our home. After he had locked its thick door, we ran through a tunnel, traveling deep into the earth. I could hear the gruesome sounds of war above me. My only comfort was the warmth my companion’s hand brought to mine.
We emerged in a great cavern full of light. Meditating in the center was a wizened old man. I looked at the bronze man in confusion, and he returned my stare with his ever-calm gaze. The old one opened his eyes when we reached him and narrowed his eyes at my companion. As if some message had passed between them in those few seconds, the old man took a horn from his belt and let out a blast as clear as the winding southern creeks. The song was nothing and everything I’d ever known all at once. A great crash echoed through the cavern. I gasped and turned my head around and around, trying to look at everything at once.
Beasts and birds I had never seen before poured out of tunnels and caves. They ran for their lives out of the cavern through an exit on the opposite side from which we had come. There were people too, but very few of them; thirty at most. They seemed different than the people who lived near our mansion. These people reminded me of my bronze-skinned friend, and strangely enough, the old man. My companion knelt and grasped my shoulders.
“I did not think we would have to part this soon, but you cannot stay here. War is coming and I would not be able to protect you.”
My heart skipped a beat. “But we’ve always been together.”
Smiling sadly, he touched my face. “I cannot go with you, Pia. My place is here.”
He removed his necklace, a long strip of leather with a clear, hollow bead strung onto it. I always liked to think it was full of a swirling winter wind because it looked like ice. As he looped it over my head, my eyes filled with tears. He was my guardian, my best friend, the closest to a father I’ve ever had.
I threw my arms around his neck. “I don’t want to leave you!”
“I know.” He held me for a moment as tears slipped down my cheeks, his embrace tightening just before he let me go. “We’ll meet again, dear one.”
I was whisked away from him by a woman in green, the gnarled old man close behind. I glanced back, catching a glimpse of my bronzed companion raising a hand in heavyhearted farewell.
I have not seen him since.
I am now seventeen, living with my fellow elementals. I may be the strangest of them all for I alone can control two elements. My given element is fire, which my friend from so long ago gave to me to save my life. He gave me my second as well. The necklace did not contain swirling wind, as I had imagined. I hope to one day discover how water was frozen into a glasslike ice that didn’t melt until it touched my skin. The hollow bead disappeared the day after our escape from the Dark Raiders. That was the day I found I could control the element of water as well as fire.
I live with Tey, the woman in green who escorted me from the great cavern, and Lyss, her daughter. They are both earth elementals. We are currently in a war with the Dark Raiders, who so unceremoniously forced me from my home. I recently found out that my father, whom I have never met, is their leader’s favored general and advisor.
My bronzed friend sent me a message telling me this and the story of my birth. Begging me to not search for him, he urged me to make peace with the Dark Raiders. His words came too late, though. The other elementals and I did not intend to make peace. In fact, as I write this, the leader of the Raiders is being put to death.
I refused to witness his slaughter.
The land will soon be free once again, but as everyone I have ever loved seems to disappear before my eyes, whether immediately or eventually, I have chosen to leave. I am sailing away, maybe to a far-off land or island. Somewhere without war and suffering, a place without oppression and hatred, if such a place exists.
Maybe I’ll just keep sailing.
– Recorded by the hand of Pia, Elemental of Fire and Water, daughter of Hin and Karah of the Eastern Region of Unam