“Asie! Back off!”
The firecat spat at her opponent, a huge battle-scarred steelclaw (badger-like creatures with deadly, steely claws, and normally had wicked tempers), and raced back to her master. Cera scooped up Asie, cradling her close. The ginger firecat nuzzled her cheek with a small, petal-pink nose apologetically, but Cera wasn’t swindled.
“I told you not to go attacking other elemials! Sorry,” she said to the owner of the steelclaw, a scowling man in his later fifties. He rubbed his unshaven chin irritably, making a bristling nose. Asie flicked her ears to catch the sound.
“That firecat has cause more trouble in this community than any other,” snapped the man.
“Sorry, Mr. Moule,” repeated Cera. His steelclaw lumbered back to him, and he bent to touch the center of its forehead. A blue light traveled from his hand and into the steelclaw’s mind; it relaxed instantly. Cera felt a spike of envy. Only the older owners of elemials knew this kind of magic, where they could calm their elemial with just a brief mental connection.
Cera lived in a community that housed an unknown race of creatures called ‘elemials’ – animals fused with an element of nature. Each family was bonded to a certain species, and Cera’s family had the firecats to contend with. The Moules had the steelclaw’s; the Nerts had the thunderwolves; the Dios had the breezetails (horse creatures that have colored wind for manes)…to be honest, Cera barely knew them all. There were about 15 families in the community.
She set Asie down, and she wrapped around her ankles. Asie’s fur was unnaturally warm as always. Firecats were rumored to be the hardest of the elemials to control, and Cera could easily confirm the rumors. Her firecat loved fighting; her fur had a tendency to crackle with sparks when she was itching for a fight.
Reentering her house, Cera found her mother with her personal firecat, a silvery-blue she-cat name Iwin, perched on her shoulder waiting for her.
“Did I hear Tom Moule’s steelclaw out there? And Asie trying to fight it?” her mother asked, a stern glint in her green eyes. Oh, no.
“Mom, she was there before I could stop her! I swear I didn’t just let her go,” Cera protested. Asie sniffed at Iwin, mewing in greeting. Iwin returned her greeting with a flick of her tail.
“No other firecat leaps into every chance of battle,” her mother pointed out.
“If you’d let me train her…”
Her mother’s nostrils flared. Catching her master’s bad mood, Iwin hissed at Cera and Asie.
“You know we both have a knack for battle,” Cera sighed. “I know Penny and Ringo went into the performance business and you want me to follow her footsteps, but I want to do what dad did!”
At the mention of her father, her mother stiffened and Cera instantly regretted her words. Their father had disappeared with his firecat without leaving any hints to where he would be. Cera missed him constantly, but her older sister Penny soon forgot him. Ringo was her firecat, a tabby with black paws, and they both did well in the community theater. Her father was an excellent fighter and trainer, and his cat won nearly every battle. He was a legend at the arena, and Cera felt it was her call to rise to the challenge, and maybe even surpasses his legacy to create her own.
Asie swished her tail, watching the movements of Iwin. She mewed to the other cat, and they both sprang away from their owners. The pair raced into the living room, which was void of any significant furniture spare a sofa and a couple recliners, and whirled to face each other.
“What on earth…” breathed her mother, and Cera knew what Iwin and Asie were planning.
Asie caterwauled a mock-threat, and Iwin answered her. Placing her paws evenly apart from one another, the ginger firecat bristled until her pelt was laced with sparks. Iwin bared her fangs, blue fire pooling at her paws. Nothing caught fire, for Cera’s house had been fireproofed long ago before she was even born, so that firecats could live there without fear of burning anything. Asie leapt at Iwin, and the two firecats rolled across the ground, their fires mingling. Suddenly Iwin blazed with fire and overwhelmed Asie. Hissing, Asie jumped away from her.
“Flank her and scorch her,” shouted Cera. Her mother cast her a sharp glance, but she ignored it. Flicking her ears to acknowledge the command, Asie dodged to Iwin’s side with her teeth bared. Orange fire covered her fangs and she nipped Iwin’s silver-blue pelt. With a yelp, Iwin ducked away.
Abruptly both firecat’s fires went out and they calmly began grooming themselves. Cera looked at her mother.
“She and I can hold our own in the arena if we trained more. Iwin didn’t even try.” Cera walked over and rubbed the fur behind Iwin’s ears. She purred, and Asie padded over to brush muzzles with her friend. “You better thank her for such an easy fight,” muttered Cera to Asie. She meowed back.
“You know that’s not all there is to fighting in the arena,” her mother snapped.
In the battle arena, elemials and their masters had a special connection that allowed them to talk without even speaking so that their opponents didn’t hear the commands they were given. Cera and Asie had yet to forge that bond, and it was Cera’s suspicion that there was something else essential for the connection that she was missing.
Her mother watched the two firecats for a while as they licked their pelts. Iwin was rankled by the nip to her flank, but she allowed Asie to sit close to her.
“Fine. I’ll let you sign up for it. It’s a camp, you’re father entered it when he was a couple years younger than you. Go to the arena tomorrow and you might just make the sign-ups,” her mother informed her.
Elated, Cera hugged her mother and called for Asie. She took her up to her room, and picked up a special brush that was made resistant to heat. Running it first down Asie’s spine, and then proceeding to brush the rest of her firecat. Asie purred, her tail curling in pleasure.
“You’re a good girl, Asie. Even if you don’t listen well when I tell you not to fight other elemials,” Cera whispered fondly. Still purring, Asie got up and rubbed her head against her jeans. Over to Cera’s right, nestled on her bedside table between a stack of books and her clock, her father’s picture was propped up against the light stand. He stood with a cocky grin on his face, and sitting on his head perfectly balanced was his firecat Tiliy. Her tail waved in the air, tipped with fire.
Looking at it, Cera felt a small pang and her usual questions arose. Why did he leave? Was it my fault? Is he still out there? Is he dead? Or alive?
Will he come back?
Cera’s community was hidden on the edge of the Pennsylvania countryside, nearer to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. They weren’t recognized by the outside world, mainly because they didn’t travel outside their community, which was named Phoenixtown. Some said in a joking manor that they wanted to be like Phoenixville, but in truth it was because Phoenixtown missed the one obvious elemial: a Phoenix. It was as just of a myth to them as it was to the outside world.
Phoenixtown an unknown community, and all it’s residents were determined to keep it that way. No outsiders were allowed to come even close, and the Dios lived at the edge of town so that they could patrol the area with their breezetails and make sure no one crossed their borders. People usually didn’t go too far into the woods, so they didn’t have trouble most of the time.
In the center of Phoenixtown was the Battle Arena, a huge square building with shrubberies and trees lining the outside. Behind it were stables and pens for elemials to sleep in overnight if they wished. Sometimes the stables were just used to let elemials that had finished a rough fight rest. Inside the building were different areas to fight, and one room given for masters to lounge.
A woman much taller than Cera led her into a circular room, and every inch of the woman’s rigid body relayed the message that Cera was late. In her defense, she had explained that her mother had prevented her from coming earlier and starting training with the rest, but the woman didn’t relent her stiff attitude. Asie kept close to Cera, shooting the woman glares and baring her fangs if the woman turned to scowl at Cera. In reply to this the woman gave her harder stares.
Finally when they reached the other trainees, Cera rushed away from the woman to leave those cold stares behind. The group was already chatting with one another, but they hushed upon her arrival. They were about her age, staying in the 14-15 range.
A girl with an otter-like creature bouncing around her smiled in her direction. Instantly Cera began to mark out things about her. She tucked her brown-red hair behind her ear in a fluid movement that indicated that it was a habit, and looking her over twice, showing that she was observant as well. Her skin was tan, so she must’ve spent a good amount of time outdoors. Unlike most trainees, who wore sneakers, she wore sandals that had seen some hard days. The leather was worn and beat, and the sole of the girl’s foot sank into the sandal.
“I heard that we’d get a new trainee,” she said, and stuck her hand out at Cera, “welcome! I’m Lily. This is Pookee, but most of the time I call him Pook for short.” The otter-creature stopped its movement and stood on its hind paws, looking at Cera and Asie with glittering dark eyes. Taking Lily’s hand, Cera felt the softness and was surprised. She had thought Lily to be a tough girl from her appearance, but her palm said otherwise.
“My name’s Cera, and my firecat is Asie,” she introduced. Hearing her name, Asie pricked her ears and mewed. Pookee chuntered back, bobbing his head. Bending down, Cera offered her hand to him. She could have sworn he gave her a smile, and shoved his muzzle into her hand.
“What element does he have,” asked Cera, though she assumed the answer would be water, since it’s counterpart in the natural world live in that sort of habitat.
“Lightning,” Lily replied. She must’ve seen the confusion on Cera’s face, for she explained, “water conducts lightning very well, so the legend goes that otter-eels were given control over electricity because they lived so close to the water.”
Suddenly, a man wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, walked in casually. He didn’t look to Cera the typical teacher, but the trainees around her faced the man with obvious respect. He didn’t have an elemial with him, which struck her as strange. Stopping at Cera, he furrowed his brow.
“Who are you,” he asked.
“I’m the new trainee, sir,” Cera said meekly.
“Isn’t she the new trainee you were talking about, Ace?” asked a boy next to Lily.
“No, she isn’t, but she’s welcome anyway,” the man stated.
“I thought her elemial looked unimpressive,” whispered one trainee to another. Cera felt a sting in her pride, but knew she’d have a chance to prove herself later. Lily tilted her head and lifted her chin in one motion.
“So whom were you talking about,” she demanded. Ace walked slowly over to her, taking his time and staring her in the eye. Cera was amazed that Lily didn’t lower her gaze, since Ace was intimidating. Next to Lily, Pookee twittered softly and hid behind his master.
“He’ll come, just hold on.” He turned from her and back to Cera. “I take it you’re a last minute addition?”
“No need to call me sir. Just call me Ace like everyone else,” he informed her. Cera nodded. Ace told her to introduce herself and her elemial to the rest of the group. When she had finished, he organized them into pairs that would train with each other. Lily ended up pairing with another redheaded girl with a steelclaw, and Cera felt slightly saddened. She would have felt better if her partner was Lily, since she was the only other person she knew.
“Cera, I’m going to wait to give you your partner,” Ace announced when everyone but her was paired up.
The pairs went off and let their elemials spar for a while. Cera sat back, dejectedly playing with Asie. Previously she was so excited to start her first day as a Battle Arena trainee, but didn’t meet her expectations by a large margin.
Ace was abruptly there in front of her.
“I didn’t give you a partner because, well, we don’t have enough trainees yet. But also I wanted to give you some quick basics of battle elemials.
“First, it’s an elemial’s instinct to bond with a human. They’re different from animals, because wild animals don’t want anything to do with humans. And I can see you already have a close bond with your firecat,” he nodded toward Asie, who was copying Cera’s attentiveness toward Ace. Her ears were swiveled around to hear his words just like Cera was leaning slightly forward. “Battle elemials and their masters have a deeper connection, to the point where they can communicate with their minds with the other. Elemials think like humans do almost.”
“May I ask something,” inquired Cera.
“Of course,” Ace said.
“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.
~The chapter isn't done yet... hope you liked!~