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The Elemental


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Sanya stood under the baking midday sun. She felt its scorching rays beating down upon her skin, but she wasn’t worried, and she was sure none of the other nine acolytes were either. Like the rest, Sanya had suffered painful sunburns early on in her training, but now her skin was deeply tanned, and she barely noticed the radiation that fell on her. The dry, stale-tasting air coming off the desert in front of her instantly wicked away any sweat, so she knew she was in no danger of overheating.

Tovin, their longtime instructor, stalked in front of the line. For those who lived in the cities, he would be an intimidating sight. Rough skin pulled tight over taut muscles and sharp joints. His only clothing, a tattered pair of pants, showing off a broad torso covered in intricate tattoos. The satchel he had uncomfortably slung across his shoulder almost covered more skin than his clothes. And a face with no hair whatsoever; not even any eyebrows.

He wasn’t speaking, which was typical of him. He just scowled at the acolytes, searching for any last shred of weakness that he hadn’t shored up or beaten out of them over the long years. Sanya took no offense; if an acolyte wasn’t absolutely ready, nothing waited for them out there in the Wastes but death.

They had been standing there, at attention, for half an hour, and Sanya’s pack was starting to grow quite heavy on her back. Finally, after one last sneer, Tovin begrudgingly broke his silence. “All right, kids,” he said with a scowl. “Let’s not pretend I need to tell you what to do. You want to become an Elemental? You want to earn your place among us?” He reached into his satchel and withdrew sheets of parchment. “Here are your maps. Follow yours. No one else’s. No helping. No crossing paths.” As he handed Sanya her map, he leaned in menacingly. “We’ll be watching you closely, boy.”

She knew his words were supposed to cut with a twofold bite. When she wore her hair long, Tovin had mocked her whenever it got in her way during training; but when she cut it short, he began referring to her as a boy. And for the first part of the jibe, she knew he was referring to her early days in the academy.

Growing up as an orphan, she’d learned the importance of banding together with the other urchins, helping one another out so they could all survive. When she’d been taken in as an Elemental acolyte, she’d persisted in that practice; she always sought to aid the others when they struggled during their training. Tovin had broken her of that habit, of unfairly denying her fellow acolytes the lessons they needed to learn.

Sanya was not the insecure little girl she’d been when she’d first arrived at the monastery, her mind soft and poisoned by the Missionaries’ blasphemy. She wore her scars with pride, both physical and mental. Many of the former crept out from underneath her clothes, visible on her shoulders or her lower back. As for the latter, she had heard many of Tovin’s cruel remarks before, and she allowed him no power over her emotions.

Once he finished handing out the maps, Tovin took a step back, surveying the line of young men and women standing at attention. “Know this, kids. Your body only has so much water in it. Some of you, a little more than others, am I right, Teff?” Sanya didn’t turn to look at the larger acolyte, but she knew he wouldn’t react to the barb about his weight, either. “But you will not find any water out in the Wastes. If you delay, you will die.”

“Now, we could come and save you,” he continued nonchalantly, raising his hand in the air, palm-up. On his unspoken command, water began to pool out of nowhere and pour through his fingers onto the cracked rock below his feet. “It’s a trivial matter for a Water Elemental to draw moisture out of the atmosphere.” Sanya looked on greedily; how she longed for that power, for that self-sufficiency.

He gave a cold smile as the water stopped dripping. “But we won’t.”

Despite herself, Sanya felt a chill run up her spine. Tovin had been tough on them over the years; Cuiran had lost an eye during a sparring match, and Narra had lain sick for days when she was bit by a spider that Tovin really should have warned her about. But he had always intervened when one of them was in mortal danger. No need to let all that training go to waste, he’d said.

This was the final trial, and there was only one way out; finding her way to the Temple of Elements, deep in the Wastes. There would be no way back, no second chances. Sanya was certainly glad that she’d trained, pushing herself to her very limits, for seven years to get ready for this day.

Sanya collected her thoughts, calming her worries, as she watched Tovin turn and swing up on his mount, a Northern Soldier Ant that stood four feet tall. “Well?” he shouted. “What are you all waiting for!”

The acolytes broke into a flurry of action. Most knelt, reaching into their packs to pull out their compasses. Sanya and a few of the others just glanced quickly at their maps and used the sun to gauge a rough direction. They set out at a jog, quickly separating as they went different directions. Sanya held her map out in front of her as she ran, half her attention on memorizing it and half on watching her feet to make sure she didn’t trip. This edge of the waste was all stone, and the rough ground was littered with rocks and pebbles.

She didn’t look at her fellow acolytes. She didn’t look back at Tovin, although she’d long suspected he would shed a tear as he watched his ‘kids’ finally leave on their trials. And she didn’t look up at the Air Elementals who circled high above in their gliders, watching everyone as they ran their paths. She’d jealously watched them enough over the years. Each acolyte had their own path, and Sanya had no energy to expend on the others. She would see her classmates at the end, or she wouldn’t. Her responsibility was making it there herself. And she would need every ounce of determination and preparation to do so.


After a few hours in the Wastes, Sanya faced an unexpected adversary. Complacency. She’d prepared herself mentally against how she’d expected panic to manifest. She had rehearsed what she would do if she found herself lost in a maze of canyons, or hunted by vicious predators, or stranded among the sand dunes as dehydration began to wrack her body. None of those were coming to pass, however; her map was easy to follow, and she felt she was making speedy progress along its waypoints. Currently, she was on what appeared to be an ancient road, though it was scarcely distinguishable from the rough stone of the rest of the landscape.

But the warnings about the Waste were not to be ignored. This was far, far more dangerous than any place she’d been taken to in her training. The Salt Islands, the Cove of Daggers, and Fangmist Jungle, especially: all had tried to kill her moments after she’d entered them. Even on her rare trips back to the cities, the Elementals and their acolytes were criminals who needed to avoid the guards and keep a low profile. In some ways, the Waste’s silence was an even greater danger. It needed no flair, no threats. With no water, human life would expire. It was inevitable.

Sanva had assumed the Waste had always been here; barren and inhospitable land, stretching for miles upon miles. But as she continued her measured jog along her path, she found herself approaching what appeared to be a forest. Tall trees, similar to the ones around the city she had grown up in; but these appeared to be made entirely of stone. Had they grown out of stone? Or had they been transformed somehow?

The mystery was quickly pushed out of her mind as a sound intruded on her. She’d grown accustomed to the sound of her own regular, rhythmic footsteps; but now, as she ran through the stone trees, she thought she heard another’s. Was it her own footsteps, echoing back to her? She stopped in place, calming her breathing to make as little sound as possible.

No. The other footsteps continued. There was another in this forest with her.

Her mind went back to Fangmist, to hunting the acid beetles, and her body remembered what to do. Silently, she stalked from tree to tree, evaluating the sound of the mysterious footsteps. It was difficult to track; the stone trees caused odd echoes that travelled differently than they would in a real forest. But she was confident she was making her way closer and closer to the source of the sound. Was it a group of people, perhaps?

All of a sudden, the sound of the footsteps stopped. She put her back against a tree, listening for a long moment. No footsteps. No sound of any kind. Sanya poked her head cautiously around the trunk.

A man stood there, dressed in peculiar-looking clothes, laden with an enormous pack. He was staring straight at her, beginning to wave enthusiastically. “Oh, there you are! I figured someone would be coming through this way sooner or later.” He waddled over towards her. Various pouches and trinkets affixed to his pack swung and smacked against one another, creating the sounds that Sanya had thought was a whole crowd.

She quickly took stock of him. He was wearing loose, flowing robes; quite different than the tight, minimalistic clothing that those who ventured into the desert knew to wear. On his feet were a pair of oversized shoes that must have been a struggle to walk in. And he had spectacles on his face, making his eyes appear much too large. He looked so out of place in the Wastes… and yet, he’d somehow spotted her before she’d seen him, known she was there even when she’d been hidden from his sight. “Who are you?” she asked him as she stepped out into the open. “What are you doing here?”

He took his pack off; though it was bulky, he lowered it to the ground with ease. “The name’s Augerius Hartilaxian,” he said, reaching out for a handshake. Sanya knew a name that ostentatious must be fake, and she had no intention of touching his hand. But the man was hardly put off by her lack of reaction, twirling his wrist instead as he smoothly transitioned the gesture into a bow. “But you, my dear, may call me Geri, as all my acquaintances do, whether close or otherwise. How may I have the honor of referring to you?”

She pursed her lips. This was not at all what she had expected to encounter on her trial. “Sanya.”

“Well, lovely Sanya,” Geri, continued, “I have come to this place from a long way off. I won’t bother naming where I hail from; it’s quite far away, and I guarantee that you have never heard of it.” The way he spoke without an accent put immediate lie to that statement, but Sanya had no intention of interrupting yet. “I am a treasure seeker, you see. I travel to the farthest reaches, to the ends of the world, searching for items that have either been lost, forgotten, or merely not used to their fullest potential.” He waved his hand and his pack and the various accoutrements strapped to it. “I believe there is something quite valuable out here in the desert, but I’ve been having trouble locating it.”

“You came to the Wastes,” she replied flatly, “looking for treasure?”

He nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, the Wastes. That’s the whole desert, right, not just this forest?”

She nodded slowly. His deception seemed more contrived by the second. As difficult as it was to believe that someone from this part of the world didn’t know what the Wastes were, it was even harder to believe that he’d stumbled into them on accident. “And the Wastes are entirely uninhabited. Nobody lives here. I’m probably the first person in years to enter this forest.

He raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “Then we have Fortune to thank for you being here. You see, I need some assistance in locating this treasure of mine. I have many useful items; I’m sure, whatever purpose you’re on, I would be able to provide you with some help in return--”

Geri continued talking, but Sanya was no longer listening. An offer of help. This must be a trap, a set-up. Someone who’d been recruited by the Elementals to test her resolve. She strained to keep her eyes from looking upward, seeking the Air Elementals she knew would be watching her high above. She didn’t want to look like she had a guilty conscience, checking up on her observers.

“I’m sorry,” she interrupted him, “but I cannot help you, and I really must be going.” She turned back and began running through the forest, returning to the road.

As she left Geri behind, she heard him mutter what sounded like several unfamiliar curses. The ruckus that followed must have been him picking back up his pack and trying to run after her. But he was much more heavily laden than she was, and apparently quite out of shape, and the sounds quickly faded away as she outpaced him.

Sanya focused on her stride again, running faster to make up the small amount of time she’d lost in that distraction. The sun was close to setting as the pitted ground beneath her feet began to transition to sand; she took a moment to remove her shoes, putting them in her back. She would not reach the Temple of Elements tonight, but her sand tent was best suited to be used among the dunes. Barefoot, she continued to run for about an hour or so, all thoughts of impossible forests and strange men left behind.


Sanya’s sand tent was the largest item in her pack, but it was essential to survive a frigid night out in the Wastes. She needed to find a good place to dig her campsite out; too high on the side of a dune, and she could be exposed as the sands shifted overnight. Too low, and she could be buried. Once she’d estimated an appropriate height, she dug out a hole, lined it with canvas, and began to fit the frame together. She was creating a pocket in the sand to insulate her from the freezing, biting night air. The cold of a desert could be just as deadly as its heat.

Darkness fell around her before she finished, but the stars came out bright enough to illuminate her work. She could build her sand tent blindfolded, if she had to, but the starlight helped her keep an eye on the desert around her. There were other dangers here, and she didn’t want anything creeping up on her.

As she snapped the last piece of her frame into place and began to pile sand back around the edges of the hole, a light off in the distance caught her eye. It was back in the direction she’d come from. It didn’t flicker like a torch; it was a brilliant white, and though it was small when she first noticed it, it grew as it got closer. A man, carrying an impossibly bright lantern. Wearing an enormous pack. Stumbling through the dunes like he barely knew how to walk. Somehow, Geri had managed to follow her.

She sighed in exasperation. No matter how he’d done it; soon, it wouldn’t matter. She’d crawl inside her sand tent and let the dune slide over her, burying her for the night. He wouldn’t be able to find her, then.

But a sudden realization flashed into her mind. If he continued straight for her, his path would pass right over… yes, he would cross right on top of it. That large, circular area of flat sand. It didn’t look dangerous, but Sanya knew the secret it hid. In an instant, she reached into her pack, grabbing two short spears, and sprinted out towards Geri. “No!” she yelled, waving her arms. “Go back!”

He waved at her in greeting and trundled along, picking up his pace slightly. She wasn’t going to get there in time. She ran anyways.

As Geri neared the patch, the sand shifted, a circular slab lifting off the ground. The monster crawled out from beneath its hiding place; eight feet wide, the Crater Spider had sensed its prey approaching and leapt out to strike. Sanya was still too far away to do anything, too far away to help, and the spider’s trapdoor blocked its strike from her view.

A terrible, piercing scream rang in her ears. It didn’t sound like a man; it was a shrill and horrific shriek. As it faded in the desert air, she let her pace slow. She’d been too late; the Wastes had claimed its prey.

A second scream filled her ears. And a third. Each was punctuated with a strange green light, barely visible around the edges of the trapdoor, which still stood upright. With a surge of adrenaline and curiosity, she sprinted around the side of the spider’s lair.

Geri was somehow alive, the spider cowering back before him. He held a small device in his hand; it was inscribed with strange symbols, glowing green, and he brandished it towards the spider. “Not so tough now, are you, old boy!” he shouted at it. “Crawl back in that hole like a good spider, now!”

The spider did not, in fact, obey him. It moved slowly, uncharacteristically cautious, but it clearly hadn’t given up on getting a meal tonight. Geri shook his head in bemusement, raised his arm to point at the spider, and launched another burst of green power at the spider’s head. The pulse looked and sounded hideous, like he’d summoned a vengeful ghost to do his bidding. The spider flinched back a little, but Sanya could see it was unharmed, and it kept on moving towards Geri. The blasts had startled the predator, but it had now realized that whatever Geri was doing caused it no lasting damage.

Geri frowned, backing away. “Uhhhh…” His cocky demeanor was gone, and he stumbled backwards maladroitly.

But now, Sanya was close enough. She leapt across the sand, closing with the spider, and jabbing with her spears at the very tip of one of its legs. Its sensing organs were located there, letting it pick up vibrations from its web that it had stretched underneath the sand. Injure the tips of its legs, and it would retreat to its nest; that was the way she’d been trained to drive off a Crater Spider.

Sanya danced away from the spider’s bite, striking in turn at another feeler. Between the strange green screams and the attack on its legs, this spider had apparently seen enough for one night. It squirmed backwards into its hole, pulling the trapdoor tightly shut behind it.

She turned to Geri. He was panting from exertion; the quick exchange had obviously taken a lot out of him. “You should not have entered the Wastes if you are not prepared for its challenges.”

He pushed himself to his feet. “I’m grateful you were prepared enough for the both of us, then. Although I probably could have had it. I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve. Take a look at this, in fact…”

He droned on, but Sanya turned and began to plod back to her tent. Thanks to her intervention, his life had been saved; but at what cost to her? She’d broken the rules of her trial, and she would never become an Elemental.


But perhaps there was hope for her yet.

Sanya sat next to her sand tent. When she’d gone to help Geri, it had partially collapsed; she would need to dig it out and start afresh. But first, she took a few moments to compose herself and gather her thoughts. What exactly had Tovin told the acolytes before they all left on their trials? She couldn’t accept help. And she couldn’t offer help to the other acolytes. But this man here… he wasn’t an acolyte. She didn’t know what he was, or where he came from, but intervening to save his life didn’t compromise the integrity of anyone’s trial. If anything, she’d made her own path more difficult. Surely, the elders would see that. Surely, this wouldn’t disqualify her from entering the Temple.

A crashing noise from off to the side drew her attention. Geri was setting up his own tent by the dimmed light of his odd lantern. And an unwieldy, blocky monstrosity of a tent it was. He’d managed to knock it over and was struggling to right it.

Sanya stood up. She’d already crossed the line; what difference would a little more help mean? She walked over to him, taking the opposite side of the tent. Together, they lifted it upright, and then Geri began to drive stakes into the sand. Stakes that appeared entirely too short to hold it in place.

“You know,” she said, “this tent will lose a lot of heat to the desert wind.”

He smiled at her. “That’s quite all right,” he said as he reached into his pack. He pulled out a large gemstone, set in an intricate metal framework. “This little treasure right here generates heat.”

“You mean, it will start a fire? The sun’s gone down; there’s no sunlight to focus.”

“No,” he laughed. “Once I activate it, it will create heat. No fire needed.”

He must have seen the incredulity on her face, because he immediately began rummaging through his pack again. “Here, let me show you something else. This one, you’ll probably like even more.” This next item came out of a hard case; it was a metal bowl with a blue gemstone held in place above it. “Watch.”

He fidgeted with the device for a moment, then set it on the sand in front of her. After a second, miraculously, water began to appear on the surface of the gem. It tricked down and slowly began to fill the bowl.

Sanya struggled to comprehend what she was seeing. “Are you… an Elemental?” she asked, cautiously.

“An Elemental?” he repeated slowly. “E-le-men-tal.” It sounded like he was trying the word out, as if he’d never heard it before. “No, I’m nobody special. It’s all the treasures.” He motioned at the bowl. “That one pulls water out of the air. The heating treasure produces… well, heat, of course.” He pulled out the device he’d been using earlier, against the spider. “And this one. It appears this one doesn’t do quite what I was promised it would.”

He picked up the bowl; a thin coating of water had covered the very bottom. “It’ll take a few hours until there’s enough for a decent drink in there. You can have the first batch, if you’d like. My way of saying, ‘Thanks for saving my life.’”

Sanya shook her head vigorously. “No, I cannot.”

He looked confused. “What, it’s just water. Regular water, like what comes down when it rains. I’m just able to get it out a little bit easier.”

And then, his eyes narrowed, just a tiny fraction. For a moment, Sanya saw something else in this man. He may look a fool; dressed in bizarre clothes, fumbling his way through the desert like a child, laden down with a hundred useless toys. But now, Sanya caught a glimpse of keen intelligence, a cold calculation that was processing the little information she’d just given him, combining it with his own observations from earlier that day.

“They won’t let you accept help, will they.” His voice was quiet, but intense. The brash showman from before was gone. “Whoever’s running this whole thing. Whoever sent you out here. Why not?”

She turned away, ready to run. She could afford to lose her sand tent; she needed to escape. But before she could take more than a few steps, he began to call out to her, speaking quickly.

“How would they even know? Are they up there, somewhere?” Behind her, the light of his lantern increased tenfold. She looked back, shielding her eyes. He was waving it above his head, sending a brilliant beacon up into the sky. “Come down, come down, wherever you are!” he shouted. “Sanya’s got a new best friend she’d like you to meet!”

“Stop that,” she hissed at him, sprinting back to strike the lantern out of his hand. It fell to the ground a few feet away, and she ran over to it and turned it so the light pointed down into the sand. It still was bright enough to illuminate the immediate area, and she could see the smug grin on Geri’s face. And the glowing green device in his hand, pointed at her. The Crater Spider’s exoskeleton had been able to repulse it with ease; her own skin, she was not so confident about.

“So, here’s the deal,” he said menacingly. “You answer a few of my questions. And I don’t tattle on you to the babysitters. How’s that sound?”

Sanya tried to consider the possibilities, but her mind had frozen. This was too much; after preparing for all the physical hardships of traversing the Wastes, these turns of events had drained all of her mental energy. All she could do was ask a single question, voice quavering. “Who… who are you?”

His mocking grin taunted her. He knew he had won. “Like I said earlier: the name’s Augerius Hartilaxian. You, my dear, may call me Geri. All my acquaintances do, whether close or otherwise.” The smile dropped from his face. “And I’ve been wandering around this Shard-forsaken wasteland for six weeks trying to find whatever it is you keep out here that’s so rusting valuable.”

“Six weeks?” she asked. That couldn’t be right. No one could survive out here for that long.

He shrugged aggressively. “Give or take a few days, I guess. They really do all blend together when you’re doing nothing but walking and bleeding. But enough questions from you; it’s my turn, now. First question: are you an Elemental?”

She shook her head. Until she passed her trial and reached the Temple of Elements, she was only an acolyte.

“Second question: what is an Elemental?”

She took a deep breath. It wasn’t a secret, per se… the Elementals were known throughout the cities, even if most of the ‘details’ were exaggerations, legends, or outright lies to confuse the Missionaries. “Elementals are a sacred order who purify their bodies and souls until they allow the power of an Element to flow through them.”

“Fire, Water, Earth, and Air, I assume?” he asked. When she nodded, he let out a snort. “How inspired.” He raised his arms, motioning around them to the desert. “And this quest you’re on. What, do you just run around until the desert breaks you, and then you get Elemental powers?”

“I am not broken,” she said defiantly.

“But you will be,” he argued. “Look at what you’ve got in your pack. You’ve got just enough supplies to get yourself hopelessly lost out here.”

“No,” she fought back. “It is enough. I am strong enough. I have spent my whole life preparing; I have as much as I need to reach--”

She tried to cut herself off again, but he was too observant. “Oh, so this isn’t just a journey. You have a destination in mind. How far away is it?”

She knew she shouldn’t tell him. Though his threats proved that he was no Missionary, her gut said that the truth of her order should be kept secret from him, too. Whoever he really was, whatever his plans were for the Elementals, she should be doing everything in her power to stop him. But she’d spoken the truth a moment ago; she had spent her whole life preparing, training, looking forward to becoming an Elemental. Trying to attack him and escape would almost certainly end in her death; and then she would never experience the joy of flying through the air or the power of commanding the waves to do her bidding.

So she acquiesced. She could rationalize it; surely, the Elementals at the Temple would be better equipped, able to handle whatever his plan was. They’d been watching her, so they’d seen him. He wouldn’t be able to catch the rest of the order by surprise. And she’d been sent out on her trial to fend for herself; if doing whatever it took to reach the Temple was selfishness, then she was justified in it.

“I’m going to the Temple of Elements. That’s where we become Elementals. I will be able to reach it in two more days. I will be exhausted and dehydrated, but I will make it there.”

He nodded. “That sounds like an excellent plan. And I’ll be right there, with you.” He dropped his hand do his side, lowering his weapon. But he kept his eyes on her, and she knew he’d be ready to use it again at a moment’s notice. “But my dear, you look exhausted. I’ve been preparing, myself; I’ve slept enough for the both of us for three days. But you can’t accept any of my help, so you’ll need to sleep on your own. I’ll keep watch tonight, and you rest up. We’ve got a long day tomorrow.”

She didn’t quite understand what he was talking about, but she was past the point of arguing any more. If she wanted to make it to the Temple, she did need her rest. She shuffled back towards her collapsed sand tent, an uneasy feeling filling her stomach. Sleep may rejuvenate her body; but she harbored no illusions that it would quell the raging exhaustion filling her mind.


Sanya essentially had to start from scratch with her tent, and the intervening minutes proved too long for Geri to maintain his silence.

“Look, Sanya, I’m sorry about all this,” he said. His earlier intensity was gone, and though his tone was much more conversational, Sanya didn’t find it comforting in the slightest. “I have bad habit of letting things get away from me. It’s just that… I have a chance to achieve something great here. There’s magic here, powerful magic, and I finally get a chance to make it my own. All these gadgets and gizmos,” he said, waving his weapon around in the air, “but this is finally something to make me special. Something you can’t just buy your way into.”

He sighed. “But enough about me. Tell me about yourself, Sanya. Why are you out here?”

Her mind flashed back to memories of her childhood, orphaned, begging on the streets. Of the Missionaries, whose promises of hope always returned hollow and empty. Of being offered a better life by passing strangers; no less difficult, they’d promised, but infinitely more rewarding. Of her life in the enclave, watching the Elementals train and hone their abilities, and of the promise she made to herself that she would be the greatest of them all one day.

Not that she had any intention of saying a word about this to Geri. “I was sent. It’s the last step of my training.”

He scoffed. “Training? What can you learn possibly from this? How bad it feels to be dehydrated?”

He said it to mock her, but he was right. “The body is weak,” she said, quoting one of the mantras she’d had drilled into her head since youth. “The mind is weak. The spirit is weak. Only through pain can the weakness be exposed and expunged, to the purification of my self.”

He sat silently for a moment, deep in thought, staring at her. What was he looking for? “Those scars on your back,” he finally asked. “Did they beat you to help ‘purify’ you?”

She squeezed her eyes shut. She was back in her room in the monastery, fighting back tears, lying on the floor to keep the blood out of her sheets. “No.”

“You’re lying. I know what scars from a whipping look like. You’ve been beaten before, and more than once.”

She was curled up on the dirt, writing in pain. A small Fell Scorpion, barely as high as her waist, had stung her. The pain had immobilized her body, and she as she’d lain there she had promised herself to never be enslaved to such pain like that ever again. “I do not deny that.”

“Then who?”

She was tightening her fingers around the whip’s braided handle. Gritting her teeth, she swung it back, over her shoulder. The pain was great, but she stood stoically, remaining on her feet. She could handle it. The next strike would be harder.

Realization dawned on Geri’s face. “Rust and Ruin, girl. You’re insane. You’re actually insane.” He stood up and paced back and forth angrily. “You deserve better than this.” He stopped, took a deep breath. “Come with me. Once we’re done, once we’re both Elementals, let’s both leave this place. I can take you to where you’ll never feel pain again.”

He didn’t understand. Life without pain? That wasn’t possible; that wouldn’t even be life. It would be like existing as a painting, stale and unchanging. A fanciful ornament to hang on someone else’s wall. “I walk the path I have chosen. I would choose the pain every time. It has made me who I am. It will make me into who I wish to be.”

He crouched, settling back on his haunches. His eyes bored into her, like he was trying to see into her soul. “You’re wrong. You’ve been made to think this way, but when we reach your Temple, you’ll see the truth. Don’t worry; I’ll swear to them that I gave you no help, that you struggled through on your own blood and sweat. But when I stroll in alongside you and become an Elemental, as well, you’ll know that pain is merely what the world uses to control you.”

How she wished that were true. “Deal.” For some reason, the word caused him to laugh.

For the rest of the night, Geri was blessedly silent as Sanya finished assembling her sand tent. She crawled into it, asleep as soon as her head hit the ground.


When Sanya woke up and poked her head out of the sand tent, it was still dark. But she didn’t have a chance to escape her new captor; Geri was awake, seated so he could face her and jot down notes in a small journal. He had apparently taken down his tent overnight; his pack was prepared, and he looked ready to go. So she quickly broke down and stored her sand tent and led the way as the two of them set off right before sunrise.

Geri’s sleepless night didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm. Nearly as soon as they began walking, he began to droll on. Idle chit-chat: how hot the sun was, or how much he didn’t like sand, or how big that spider was last night. She knew what he was doing; one way or another, he was trying to get her to drop her guard. Either through acting like such a dolt that she went back to treating him as a fool, or through humanizing himself so she’d see him with compassion. Neither would work on her.

One thing, eventually, did get a rise out of her. “This desert sure is nothing to laugh at. Maybe those Missionaries were right…”

She turned on him, knocking him to the ground as she pulled out her spears from her pack. He rolled away, awkwardly somersaulting and coming up with his green weapon pointed at her. She froze in place, dropping her spears to the ground; her ingrained hatred of the Missionaries had drove her to take the risk, but she knew when she was beaten.

He didn’t look concerned; rather, he appeared to be annoyed. “What’s this all about?” he asked harshly. “Not a fan of the Missionaries?”

She shook her head.

He chuckled. “Well, they’re not fans of you, either. ‘Madmen of the Wilds,’ they warned me about, who supposedly kill Missionaries whenever they have the chance to.” He waved his weapon at her, and she backed away from her spears. He walked over and picked them up. “What makes them say that?”

She shrugged. “Because we kill Missionaries whenever we have the chance to.”

“Huh.” Geri frowned, puzzled, but we seemed to take it in stride. “Well, at least everyone’s in agreement. Why, though? They’re only coming to help people.”

Sanya spat on the ground in disgust. “They don’t seek to aid. They seek to destroy, to infiltrate our people and abolish our way of life. This is a war; not us against them, but them against nature. They consider us an abomination and seek to destroy us.”

Geri looked at her condescendingly. “When you say ‘us,’ do you mean the general population of the land? Or specifically the Elementals?” She didn’t say anything, but he chuckled; her silence was answer enough for him. “And how’s that been working out for all of you?”

She shook her head. “The authorities in the cities treat us as outlaws. We recruit in secret, we train in the wilderness.”

“That’s because you’re acting like outlaws. Have you heard the Missionaries’ message? Put others first, understand your neighbor, seek reconciliation in all things. What’s not to love?” He must have seen her bristling at the blasphemy, because he shrugged apologetically. “Relax, I’m not going to push anything like that on you. I’m not a Missionary. Came here with them, because there was no way I was getting any magic from where they hail from. But their lands were certainly a lot nicer to visit than this dump,” he said as he gestured to the desert around them.

Sanya wasn’t sure why she continued to argue with him. Maybe all these strange occurrences had finally taken their toll on her, and she needed to let loose. “If they had their way, there would be no Elementals.” Everybody would be soft, lounging about and content without any true purpose or power in their lives.

“But things over there are so nice that they don’t need Elementals,” he retorted.

“Then why are you here, trying to become one?”

He threw his arms up in frustration. “Whatever.” He waved her spears at her. “I’m going to be holding on to these from now on, thank you very much. You lead the way. I’ll try to stay quiet and let you focus; heavens forbid I say something entirely reasonable that sets you off, and you try to kill me again.”

It appeared, somehow, that she’d won this round. If he actually kept to his promise of silence, that would be an even greater victory.

But the seed of doubt had been planted in her mind. The Missionaries had always spoke of the great peace and prosperity of their homeland, but the Elementals had known it to be lies. Missionaries preached generosity so that others would be generous to them. But if what Geri said was true? What if compassion could prepare one as effectively as suffering?

Only at the Temple would she find answers.


Two days after saving Sanya saved Geri’s life, the sight of the Temple of Elements rejuvenated her hope. It was simple to look at from outside; a few outcroppings carved out of the canyon wall. But at the moment, it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever set eyes on. Her head pounded with dehydration, her skin burned from the sandstorm. She couldn’t help but limp slightly; yesterday, a wild Soldier Ant had clamped its pincers around it before she’d driven it off. But she was going to make it.

Geri was going to make it, too. He looked a little haggard, but he’d taken great advantage of his various items and devices. He had rested in luxury each night; he used his weapon (he’d told Sanya it was called a “gun”) to fight off when wild animals had attacked him. But he’d been true to his word; he had given no help to Sanya. He only used his gun when his own life was in danger; otherwise, he let Sanya drive off the ants, or the scorpions, or the wasps, or whatever else decided to hunt the pair. It had been more challenging without her spears, but she’d done it.

The last challenge was in front of them; a climb up the sheer cliff wall. Sanya didn’t hesitate for a moment, dropping her pack as she reached it and immediately beginning to climb. Geri was not far behind her; he abandoned his pack, as well, but even without it, he struggled to scale the rock face.

With a final exertion, Sanya heaved herself above the lip of the cliff, depositing herself on the small platform halfway up the canyon wall. A few feet away, standing in front of a passageway that she knew snaked deep into the earth, three Elementals stood. One of them was Tovin, her instructor; he had what appeared to be a genuine smile on his face, and he held a large waterskin in his hands. “About time you decided to show up,” he said. “Did you enjoy your stroll?”

Sanya didn’t reply. She looked back, over the side of the cliff. Geri had barely made it a third of the way up; he was breathing hard and sweating heavily. This was the first chance she’d had to leave him behind; Tovin and the others would be able to deal with him, to keep him out of the Temple.

Instead, she swung her legs over the lip of the cliff and began to climb back down.

She heard gasps from the Elementals by the door. She could scarcely believe herself, either, but she kept moving before she had a chance to change her mind. She had to see this through to the end. When she reached Geri, he looked up at her in surprise. She guided him up, telling him where best to place his hands and feet, how to brace for a moment and regain strength in his fingertips. When they finally reached the top, she had to practically drag him up. He collapsed in a heap on the ground, panting. “I would have had it eventually,” he gasped. “But thanks.”

Sanya turned back to the Elementals. There were only two of them, now; the other had apparently gone back down the passage. Sanya hauled Geri to his feet. She had waited long enough for this.

Tovin stepped up to the pair. He extended the waterskin to them. “Your journey has been long. Here, have something to drink.”

Geri practically ripped it from his hands. “Don’t mind if I do, thank you very much.” He fiddled with the cap for a moment, lifting the bag above his head. But before he took a drink, he paused, looking between Sanya and Tovin. “Oh, come on!” he said with frustration. He replaced the cap on the waterskin and shoved it back into Tovin’s arms.

Tovin shrugged, then held the waterskin out to Sanya. She shook her head. “Thank you, but my journey is not yet over.” The final part of the test completed, she was now ready to go and take her place as an Elemental. But when she stepped forward, towards the passageway into the Temple, Tovin put a hand out to stop her.

“Not yet,” he said. “You never could do anything the simple way. Let’s wait for the Elder to make her judgement on this mess.”

Good timing; as he finished speaking, the third Elemental returned, an old woman behind him. The Elder; the leader of the Elementals. Her body was old and wizened, her hair thin and wispy, but she still moved with confidence and strength. She was an Earth Elemental; if she wished, she could command the ground itself to carry her where she wanted to go. But every step she took on her own was a rebellion against the ravages of age.

“Acolyte Sanya,” she said, her voice creaking. “Your path to the Temple has been most unusual. But we have watched you every step of the way, and from what we have seen, you have made the journey on your own, keeping to your appointed path. You have neither received help from others, nor offered help to another acolyte, so as to deprive them of their own right to enter the Temple. Do you confirm that this is true?

Sanya gave a single nod. She looked over at Geri. He started, then said, “Oh, yeah. She didn’t let me help her one bit. Stubborn as they come, that one.” A glare from the Elder shut him up in short order. Sanya would have to learn that trick.

“Then seeing as you have overcome the path to the Temple using naught but your own strength, wits, and determination, you are welcomed to join the ranks of the Elementals.”

Relief flooded into Sanya’s soul. She’d hoped, but she’d never been certain that this business with Geri wouldn’t disqualify her. But now, all doubt had been finally been quelled.

Next, the Elder turned to Geri. “And as for you, young man. What is your name?”

He reached out his hand. “The name’s Augerius Hartilaxian, but you…” He trailed off under her withering gaze, lowering his arm back to his side. “Uh, Geri, ma’am. My name’s Geri.”

“Well, Augerius,” she said. “You seek to enter the Temple? To become an Elemental?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. He was sweating, but not from physical exertion anymore. Sanya could see that he was afraid.

The Elder glanced at him up and down. “We’ve watched you closely for these past few weeks, young man.”

Geri nodded. “I knew those weren’t birds. All the other local fauna is either arachnoid or insectoid.”

“And we have learned a great deal about you,” the Elder continued, unfazed. “You have had, perhaps, the hardest path to reach the Temple. You had no map. You had no training. It took you many times longer to cross the desert than any we have ever sent.”

The Elder motioned at Sanya. “Our acolytes are required to cross the Wastes and perform their final trial without any help from others. But she does have the tools she’s equipped herself with. Her shoes. Her spears. Her tent. They do not help her. They are merely used by her.”

She gave a hard look at Geri. “You, young Augerius, you have your tools as well. Tools you have obtained, I’m sure, through much trial and torment. Not just the items in your pack, which you abandoned below. But people, as well. Like Sanya, here. You used her, forced her to lead you here. She did not help you. She was merely a tool of yours to accomplish your goal. To reach the Temple.”

Then, the Elder smiled. Not pleasantly or welcoming, but the fierce smile of a predator. Geri grew pale. “Then seeing as you have overcome the path to the Temple using naught but your own strength, wits, and determination, you are welcomed to join the ranks of the Elementals.”

Sanya was shocked. A part of her had expected the Elder to turn him away, at the very least. The other Elementals were just as horrified. “Surely,” Tovin protested, “you can’t let him in to the Temple. He’s not an Elemental; he has done any of the training! It’s an affront to all those who have gone before!”

The Elder held up her hand, quieting the arguments instantly. “Augerius here has prepared himself the way he knows best. It is time for him to reap the fruits of his labor.”

Though the other Elementals still fumed silently, the matter had obviously been settled. They were off, then. Entering the dark passageway. It twisted and curved deep inside the mountain, lit by occasional torches. Other tunnels branched off to the sides; Sanya watched Geri peer curiously down each of them, but they stayed on the path that led true to the center of the temple. There were plenty of other chambers here; for dormitories, training, or cultivation of larvae for their food supply. But the heart of the Temple, the source of the Elementals, was all that was on her mind.

The acolytes had shared stories and rumors about what lay there, and as Sanya finally beheld it, she knew the tales were both great exaggerations and faint imitations. The room it was in was small; the half-dozen of them could barely fit in it. The walls were ill-shaped and ragged; scrawling text, ancient and indecipherable, was scratched across their surfaces.

And there, in the center of the room, sat a smooth, metallic object. A tetrahedron; a pyramid-like object with four points. The vertices glowed with light, each a different color; they were small, but their intensity flooded the room nonetheless. The tetrahedron was not large; it sat on a rough pedestal at waist height, and the top point was at Sanya’s eye level.

The Elder’s voice broke into her reverie. “It is your time to choose. The top point, red, will grant you the Element of Fire.” Sanya knew the colors by heart; the Elder must be saying it for Geri’s sake. “Blue is for Water. White is for Air. Green is for Earth. Make your choice wisely.”

Sanya didn’t know which she wanted. She’d spent many hours debating in her heart. Water would make her the most self-sufficient; the Water Elementals were the most needed of all the Elementals, especially out here at the Temple in the center of the Wastes. But her soul yearned to rise above the ground, free like a cranefly, to make the Air her domain.

Geri did not share her moment of indecision. “I think I’ll take Fire.” He stepped forward, steeled himself, and placed his hand on the red vertex of the tetrahedron.

This time, there was no doubt that the screams filling the cavern were emanating from Geri’s own lips.

He wasn’t burning. He was surrounded by glowing red energy, but it wasn’t fire. It was the pure power of the Element, infusing his soul and his body. The screams died off as Geri ran out of air in his lungs, gasping and croaking. His eyes rolled back into his head, but he didn’t let go of the tetrahedron.

After an impossibly long moment, Geri fell back away from the tetrahedron. He hit the ground with a soft thud and lay still. His limbs did not move. His chest did not rise and fall.

The Elder looked down at his body in scorn. “You think you can claim this Investiture, fool? You have spent your entire life avoiding struggle, avoiding pain. You were prepared for nothing but vanity.”

Realization dawned on Sanya. “You knew this would happen,” she heard herself saying. “That he wouldn’t be able to become an Elemental.”

The Elder shook her head. “Oh, he’s an Elemental all right. A dead one.” Her eyes met Sanya’s. “And now, dear girl, it is your turn. Are you ready?”

She was ready. She had been purified through tribulation. And she knew what she must do. Before she could change her mind, she reached out towards the tetrahedron.

And simultaneously placed a hand on the Water vertex and the Air vertex.

Pain flooded into her. For a brief moment, agony filled her ever sense, greater than any torment she’d ever felt before.

And then, everything went black.


Sanya stirred. Pain rushed in as she moved; her joints ached, her head throbbed, and her stomach turned. But pain was a welcome friend; it meant she was alive.

She opened her eyes. She was still underground, in an unfamiliar room in the Temple. It had a bed and a desk, and in the corner of the room a small figure was practicing calisthenics. The Elder, she realized.

Sanya groaned, and the Elder noticed her. “Ah, welcome back to the land of the living.” She walked over to the side of the bed, bringing a glass of water and a bowl of stew. Sanya hesitated. “Oh, it’s no trick, girl; your Trial’s over, I promise. Eat up.” Sanya needed no further prodding. Although she did make sure to pace herself to avoid getting sick.

The Elder continued to speak while Sanya ate. “You were very foolish in there. You must have learned something from that buffoon you dragged in here with you. Even acolytes who have spent their entire lives preparing will often succumb to the power of the Tetrahedron, after a trip through the Wastes like that. Surviving the power of two Elements… it’s downright miraculous.

The Elder leaned forward conspiratorially. “Now, let’s see it in action. Which one did you get? Or was it both?”

Sanya set down her meal, concentrating on her glass of water. Willing it to rise out of its container.


“How long do I need to practice before I can command it?” Sanya asked.

The Elder shook her head. “It’s entirely instinctual, I’m afraid. If you can’t do it, then you must be unable to.” She looked disappointed. “Well, then, let’s see Air.”

Sanya tried to envision a whirlwind in the room. A breeze. A single whisper of wind to move a lock of the Elder’s hair.

Still, nothing.

It must have shown on her face, because the Elder’s visage softened in compassion. “Oh, my dear girl, I’m so sorry. No one has ever tried that before, taking two Elements at the same time. Well, at least now we know what happens.”

Shame filled Sanya. After all she’d done, after all she’d been through, her path couldn’t end like this! She wasn’t weak. She’d survived the Tetrahedron. But she had been left with nothing. Hot tears of anger filled her eyes.

She felt the Elder’s hand on her shoulder. “Leave me alone!” Sanya snapped. The Elder immediately left the room, the door clicking shut behind her.

And then, a few minutes later, Sanya heard the door open again. “Young lady,” the Elder’s stern voice rang. Sanya looked up, confused. The Elder was back, and she had brought Tovin with her. “These are my personal chambers, and I do not appreciate being ordered around in them like a worker ant.” She gestured to Tovin. “Your old instructor will do nicely for that purpose.”

Sanya had no idea what was happening. None of what the Elder was saying made sense.

“Come on now, girl,” the Elder commanded impatiently, striking her lightly on the side of her head. “Whatever you did to me, do it to Tovin here.” Tovin, for his part, looked just as perplexed as Sanya felt. She hadn’t done anything to the Elder, other than asking her to leave her alone.

Wait. She hadn’t asked. She’d commanded. And the Elder had obeyed her. For a moment, at least.

It couldn’t be. She turned to Tovin. “Stand on your head.” She spoke the words confidently, strongly. And she felt it; an energy, a power behind her words. Tovin’s legs swung in the air, knocking books off the Elder’s desk.

Sanya couldn’t believe it. Elation crept into her, eager to experiment with this new ability. “Sing a child’s song.” Tovin, still upside down, began to belt out the worst rendition of “The Centipede’s Sandals” she had ever heard.

“Tell me the truth,” she continued, immediately drunk on her newfound ability. “Was I your least favorite student?”

Tovin took a break from singing. “Far from it,” he said, “I always knew you were the strongest, that you would be the best of the class.” Really? That couldn’t be right. She looked into his eyes to see the truth, and they were full of panic.

The joy fled from her in an instant, replaced with horror. She shouldn’t be doing this to him. And just like that, her spell collapsed, and Tovin scrambled to his feet. His face was flushed red; whether from being upside down or from embarrassment, Sanya wasn’t sure. Probably from both.

The Elder had remained calm and collected through the entire spectacle. “Thank you very much, Tovin, that will be all.” Sanya’s former instructor beat a hasty retreat. “As for you, Sanya. It appears that you do, indeed, have an Element. Not Water, not Air; something new, something that combines them both in a new and fantastical way.”

She patted Sanya on the cheek. “Now, dear girl, go back to sleep. Get your rest; tomorrow, we will learn exactly what Element it is you have. But sleep soundly, knowing that you have given us an amazing gift.”

The Elder’s eyes unfocused, as if she were looking off into the distance. “This may be the edge we need. The war is very nearly upon us.” She looked back down at Sanya. “But that is not yours to worry about yet, young one.”

War? With whom? The Missionaries? As her eyes closed and sleep claimed her, Sanya decided not to worry about it. The Elder was right. She’d earned this.

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Here it is, folks; my 2000th post. No, not this one; the one above it. This is the first story in a project of mine called Apocrypha Unbounded.

I'm sure I'm not the only one here who has spent years tooling around with various fanfiction or original stories. (I've got a killer outline for a 30-chapter Bionicle reboot.) As I tried to get various attempts to take off, I found that I like the shorter format the most, since I would never get more than a couple of thousand words into a project. This idea started as a response to the publishing of Arcanum Unbounded. What if I wrote my own short fiction set in the cosmere (much shorter than Brandon), more in the style of science fiction short stories? (Which I am quite fond of) A sort of microcosm of the cosmere, my own little corner to expand and play around with the cosmology and magics of the cosmere, while at the same time putting some concepts to word that I've had rolling around in my head for a while. And a format that doesn't require too much effort on characterization, which I expect to be my biggest weakness.

These stories are intended to be "canon-adjacent." I'm not going to try to explicitly contradict the published canon; but I am going to be doing to be introducing new Shards, new planets, new magic systems, and new applications of canon magic systems, so by the time the end of the cosmere rolls around, it will have been contradicted for sure. I'm sure there will also be issues with timelines and worldhoppers and things like that. But this will, hopefully, be self-consistent and not too outrageously out there. Because as much as these stories are driven by their thematic elements, they're also driven by my desire to explore Realmatics. Where some people build complicated theories tied together with tenuous assumptions and a smattering of vague WoBs, I'm letting my similar inspiration out through this avenue.

I've got eight or nine stories planned, the last of which is intended to be an Avengers-style teamup. But I probably shouldn't get ahead of myself; I've only got two more of them drafted up at this point. (Stories #2 and #6, since I really liked the concept of #6.) I don't really have a timetable in mind for these; I might get #2 touched up and posted within the month, but then I'm sure I'll get lost in Rhythm of War for a while.

Now, about this story specifically. It's not set on an existing planet, and the magic system is actually one I've posted on the Shard before, albeit a long time ago. The magic comes from my love of color-coded elemental magic systems. It's probably going to be developed a little differently than that post, but since I didn't really use the magic that much in the story, I didn't need to tie too much down. The themes of the story are tied to the local Shard. I won't tell you what it is yet, but it is one that I've theorized about before, so you'll probably see me post about it again in one of the theory boards. I did make sure to put the Shard name into the story, though it is not capitalized.

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That was great! Are you going to write more installments for The Elemental? After Sanya started her journey into the wastes and the initial worldbuilding had been sketched, I got sucked into the story completely. 

This bit was classic!

4 hours ago, Pagerunner said:

Geri frowned, backing away. “Uhhhh…” His cocky demeanor was gone, and he stumbled backwards maladroitly.

And I was genuinely surprised by (spoilers for the story)


Geri's death and Sanya's double power grab. The Elder's remark that he was a Dead Elemental was perfect.

Geri was a great character, I couldn't help but try and figure out if he was a worldhopper we would know, was he Allomancer Jak? Hoisted by his own poitard of arrogant swagger would be fitting way to for Jak to meet his end. And the heating device and water condenser were fabrials right?

I have to take a stab at the shard that's involved, based on the dichotomy of the Missionaries who seemingly have no power and who exist to ease the burdens of everyone around them, and the Elementals who attain power through trial and suffering, is the shard Tribulation?

4 hours ago, Pagerunner said:

She was ready. She had been purified through tribulation

If so, what a rad shard!

I'm excited to read more installments of your Apocrypha Unbounded!

Edited by hoiditthroughthegrapevine
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@The First Post, whoops, I'd forgotten that I'd consolidated some of my files. Here's the updated link (I've added it to the old thread, as well): https://1drv.ms/w/s!AplGxH8o0rfpwym59EEjPok59Y67?e=Lob5KZ

@hoiditthroughthegrapevine, you're absolutely right about the Shard; there was even a recent WoB that I found pretty promising on that front (although I've been proposing this potential Shard for a while). For everything else... well, I've gotta do it to you. RAFO. (I see why Brandon likes doing that so much.) Although, like I said, the final story is planned to draw together characters from many of these stories, so there are promises in the story left intentionally unfulfilled for now.

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4 hours ago, Pagerunner said:

For everything else... well, I've gotta do it to you. RAFO.

These words are accepted.

I've always been a fan of your theories, I'm really excited to read more of your stuff and see how you apply your understanding of Realmatics and principles of physics in general to new Cosmere magic systems, fun stuff!

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