Let me tell you how it happened. In the end, you’ll understand how it all makes sense, one step after another.
Our world is called New Home. Pretty basic, right? No one prettied it up with translating it into some other language, there’s no historical spin put on it to make it sound special or different. When our people found it, they were so relieved to have found safety that they didn’t have the energy to come up with a fancy name. Maybe they meant to, someday, after they’d gotten settled, but before that could happen, they discovered that their safety was maybe not so safe. Centuries passed before anyone could think about things as minor as names again and by that time, it was just New Home. Always had been, always would be.
We don’t know a lot about Old Home, whatever its name really was. We’ve got some stories, of course, but most of them are sort of mangled fairy tales, warning stories that might have made sense eons ago, but are just confusing now. But one of those, the tale of Rivansantarel, was my sister’s favorite story of all time. That’s how we got into trouble.
Rivansantarel was an explorer, you see. Supposedly the explorer who found New Home. During the time of chaos, when our people were searching for a new place to live, Rivansantarel wandered the spaces. On her own. She must have had incredible sight, because she always found her way back to our people as they wandered in deep-space, but she roamed through more of the broken places than anyone else ever had or ever would and when she came back to our people, she told them stories.
Stories after stories, of the monsters she fought and the monsters she ran from, of the wonders she’d seen and the nightmares she’d faced. We don’t have those stories, they didn’t survive. But we have her story, so we know that eventually she told our people to follow her and when they did, she led them, the survivors anyway, to New Home.
Ella loved hearing about Rivansantarel. It was her favorite bedtime story. Our mother or our father would tell it to us almost every night, sometimes making up new bits, but mostly just using the same familiar words. And Ella would sigh with satisfaction, whisper, “Some day,” and roll over and go to sleep.
Someday started when she turned twelve and was sent away to school. Most kids like school. If they don’t, they just don’t go. No one’s bothered much. There’s room for all types on New Home and school’s not for everyone. But there are exceptions.
I knew I’d be one early, maybe on my sixth birthday. Or maybe not that exact day but somewhere around then. I’d floated up to the top of an apple tree. My mother was calling me from the ground, but she doesn’t levitate so she couldn’t chase me. I wanted to smell the apple blossoms, up close, and I had that feeling that the ones out of reach were the best ones. Does everyone get that feeling, I wonder?
But that feeling was what pushed me to float higher and higher. I wanted to see, not just the closest blossom, but the farthest away blossom. Unfortunately—for it, not me—I startled a stinging insect, a ki-ri. Ki-ri are nasty creatures. Big, about the size of a small bird, colorful, and mean. They don’t need to sting—our blood isn’t some essential nutrient for them, they don’t need it to lay their eggs or anything like that—but if they feel their space is being infringed upon, they defend themselves with vigor. Fortunately, they travel alone, not in flocks, but one ki-ri sting is enough to give anyone a miserable day.
But in my case, the ki-ri flew toward me, hissing, and I was the one who defended myself. Zap. A powerful jolt of lightning burst out of me. My family had known that I was a levitation talent since I was a baby — I guess it’s hard to miss when the crying baby floats out of her crib — but none of us realized I was a lightning talent until that moment.
After that, of course I knew I’d be going away to school. All of the elemental talents are pretty rare but because they’re so potentially dangerous, anyone who has an elemental talent is sent to school to have their talent trained. I was excited.
And Ella was, too. Excited to have me gone, anyway. I used to tease her about me going away to school and she’d tease me right back—about getting my bedroom, about getting all the dessert, about choosing the songs for charuf.
When I did go away to school, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I’d thought I would. And maybe I told Ella more than I should have. I was the older sister, I should have been braver. But I was lonely and I missed her and I missed home and it wasn’t a joke anymore that she got to have all the dessert. Not that I wanted dessert, but I wanted to go home.
Still, it wasn’t so bad. There were good things. The work could be interesting. But I didn’t tell Ella the good, I only told her the bad. The very strict teachers — and they were, so strict. Of course, they were trying to prevent us from killing ourselves or anyone else with our talents so perhaps they had to be, but I should have given Ella a more balanced view. I suppose I wanted her sympathy really. It was a mistake.
Because Ella was a heliopsis. Her talents blossomed late, compared to most people’s. No floating in her crib for Ella, no zapped ki-ri, but she started having nightmares and the nightmares grew worse. And then, in her sleep, she set her bed on fire.
Yes, she’s a fire talent. And the nightmares, they turned out to be important too. She had the sight.