“Where’s your elemial?” Cera had noticed that Ace didn’t have one with him. A shadow passed over his face, and he rubbed his right arm absent-mindedly.
“She died in a fight outside the arena walls. I had a thunderwolf, and she was the most intelligent thing I ever had the pleasure of meeting,” he whispered.
“Ace, sir,” a boy peered around the door. His body was angled so that his shoulder and arm were out of view. Instantly Ace turned and faced the boy, smiling.
“Welcome, Shadow. Your partner is ready,” he told him.
“Are they now,” he murmured, glancing at Cera. Asie was on her paws, eyes blazing in excitement.
The boy took a small breath, and stepped into the room. On his arm was a large bird that was unlike any other bird. It had a long, slender neck and long tail-feathers. The feathers were golden-red, and gleamed in the light. A plume of feathers sprouted from the top of its head. When it chirped it seemed as if it were singing part of a melody.
It was a phoenix.
The class collectively froze and stared. Shadow shifted under the stares. Suddenly, Asie yowled happily and bounded up to the boy and his phoenix, her fur beginning to spark.
“Asie! No!” Cera lunged forward after her cat. She tried to wrap her arms around her firecat, but burned herself. “Ouch!” She cursed and rolled away from Asie. Ending up on her back, she looked up into the grinning face of Shadow. He laughed softly.
“Trust me, Jera has burned me more times than I care to remember,” he said. He offered his free hand to her. She took it and he pulled her up.
“So you’re my partner,” he smiled at her, “I like you already.” Cera blushed.
“Return to what you were doing! Go on!” Ace commanded them. Everyone hastily returned to sparring.
“You two are going to firstly work on making a connection with your animals. The other trainees have already done this,” Ace commanded them. He offered each child a ruby-colored stone. “This is a firestone. It’s used for those who bond with fire elemials, such as yourselves. Now, what you do is hold the stone, and concentrate on a connection. Your elemial will know what you’re trying to do and help you the rest of the way.” Cera took her stone and glanced at Shadow. He shrugged at her, and took his own.
Turning her eyes onto Asie, Cera closed her eyes and thought hard about a connection. She heard Asie mew, but didn’t open her eyes. With a jolt, Cera’s mind suddenly flooded with a new sense of other. The blackness she saw behind her eyelids suddenly lit and a brand of fire danced in her mind.
Hello, Cera. It’s great to be able to talk to you, something purred. Cera snapped open her eyes, and saw Asie calmly looking at her. You’ll get used to it very soon.
She reached out and stroked her firecat’s warm ginger fur. “Hello, Asie.”
Shadow ran the knuckle of his pointer finger down his phoenix’s neck, and it cooed happily. He laughed. Catching Cera watching, Shadow smiled and moved his phoenix to his other arm.
“Are you ready,” he asked her.
“Are you,” countered Cera playfully. He gave her another grin and then shouted.
“Let’s go Jera!” he cried out. Jera, the phoenix, screeched and took flight. Asie didn’t need a command from Cera to get started; she just leapt up and yowled a challenge. Jera’s feathers became individual tongues of flames and Asie’s fur went into full-battle mode, alighting with a brilliant orange flame.
Come at me, Asie’s voice shouted, but no one other than Cera heard. A brief flicker of admiration flickered inside of Cera before she sent her first command.
She’s going to dive-bomb you. When she does I want you to roll onto your side and out of the way, then unleash whatever attack you want, I told her as fast as possible. Asie purred with the thought of her own personal attack just as Jera did as she had predicted.
Tilting her wings and flipping her tail, Jera swooped upon Asie. The firecat tucked her paws underneath her and rolled to her side like Cera commanded. Then, thrusting her hind paws around toward her head, she flicked her flaming tail and sent a wave of fire towards Jera.
“How does that work,” a bystander muttered, “fire against fire?” Cera glanced over her shoulder and saw every trainee was watching, including Ace.
“Hush,” their instructor said, “you’ll see.”
Asie’s fire met the flames of Jera. It billowed against it, causing a ripple in her shield. Asie slid smoothly to her paws and jumped at Jera, but the phoenix was warned and beat it’s wings in her face. Hissing, Asie dropped to all fours, shaking her head.
That blasted bird singed my whiskers! Asie spat.
Then blast it right back, Cera suggested it. Jera, though, had other plans. Drawing in one wing, she spiraled down towards Asie. At the last moment, when she was right above her opponent, Jera flared her wings and a burst of fire exploded from her.
Consumed by flames, Asie’s fire was blown away and her fur was scorched. Cera winced as her firecat’s pain swept into her mind.
“Back off,” she shouted, and Asie spun on her hind paws and ran from Jera. Sorry, Cera apologized. I know you hate backing from a fight.
Asie didn’t say anything, but let her fiery fur go out and sulkily licked a paw.
“That was brilliant!” Ace walked between Jera and Asie. Cera didn’t dare try to pick her firecat up; she was still mad. Jera sung a soft song, landing on Shadow’s shoulder.
“That was more advanced than I’ve seen in first time trainees. Congratulations!” Ace seemed to glow with pleasure. Then, he turned to the rest of the class. “Tomorrow, we take on the obstacle course. Go home, eat, and rest up! Dismissed!”
Lily was positively buzzing.
“I can’t believe it! A phoenix! Those are…those are…” she groped for a word.
“Unheard of,” suggested Cera.
“That’s it! Unheard of,” Lily breathed. Pookee bobbed at her feet, chattering and excited like his master. Cera glanced at Asie. Her pride was still sore from losing the sparring round, tail trailing behind her.
“Hey, Cera! Hold up!”
Shadow ran up to them, Jera flying behind him. Lily’s eyes looked up and down him, but unlike her, Cera was staring at his phoenix. She liked the way its feathers shimmered with many shades of gold and red. Shadow finally reached them, panting.
“That…was a great…battle,” he gasped. Asie let out a short hiss.
“Thank you,” mumbled Cera.
“No, really,” Shadow found his breath, “you’re firecat is an amazing fighter.”
Cera shrugged, and fell into step next to him. Lily contented herself by walking backwards. Pookee tried to do the same and tripped over himself.
“So, how’d you find a phoenix? What elemial does your family control,” asked Lily, eyes shining.
“Um, Jera found me. And where I come from, we don’t have elemials,” he replied shyly. A surprised look flickered across Cera’s face, and both Cera and Lily froze. Due to the abrupt lack of motion, Shadow nearly ran into Lily.
“What?” he asked.
An outsider, was the shared thought between the two girls. An outsider in Phoenixtown…
“Earth to Cera,” Shadow snapped his fingers in front of her face, and did Lily the same favor. They jolted out of their thoughts and stared at him. Then, in a rush, they both talked at the same time.
“You’re really not from here-” Lily gasped.
“Jera found you? So that means-” said Cera.
“-and you lived in the outside world before this-”
“-it was either random chance-”
“-that is way cool!”
“-or your skills far surpass any trainee in the history of battle elemials!” Cera finished. Shadow looked overwhelmed.
“Look, it is not cool that I’m new here. Everyone keeps making a big deal about it and I thought I could trust you guys not to freak out, but apparently not.” Jera landed and shifted on his shoulder, chirping angrily as he spoke. Cera felt ashamed, but Lily kept her bold and excited look. “And I am not more skilled than anyone else. I’m just a normal kid that fell into an abnormal world.” His face twisted into a faint expression of distress. Cera felt like reaching out to him. Before she could however, Asie padded forward and rubbed against the leg of his pants, purring.
Someone’s got to comfort the poor kitten, she said to Cera.
He’s not a kitten, she retorted, and I was going to do that!
Asie pulled a face. At his age he’s still considered a kitten, and you were going to do no such thing. It’s awkward for humans to do this.
“No kidding,” she accidentally growled aloud.
“Excuse me?” Shadow glanced at her curiously.
“Asie…never mind,” Cera sighed.
Lily scooped up Pookee into her arms and cuddled the otter-eel. She looked at Shadow through Pookee’s fur.
“We were going to visit Cera’s house, so I would know where she lives, and then go to my house. It isn’t too far away, if you’d like to come with us,” she offered.
“I’d like that very much, thank you,” he replied.
The three began walking again, this time in an atmosphere of comfort and friendship.