Ari lives in a world where everyone is born with a black mark on their wrist. This mark determines their abilities and their rank in life. For Ari, her mark is outside of the main four, and this makes her an outcast, forced into hiding where she is and who she is.

When the Queen finds out she's been hiding under her own roof, she has to run, leaving her family behind, to find sanctuary in one of the hidden colonies. This plunges her into a war that she is now one of the main pieces in. Now she has to train, to fight to save the very country that abandoned her.


1. Chapter 1

My Mother shook me awake. I blinked. A sphere of light hovered nearby; my mother’s creation. I guessed it was the middle of the night.

“Ari! Ariella!” Her eyes were wide and frantic.

“What?” My voice was still croaky from sleep. I searched her face for a clue; her jaw was clenched, her eyes wide with shock. Then I understood. “No. How?” All I could do was whisper.

‘I don’t know! But you have to go.’ Her thin hands were still gripping my shoulders. I threw the covers off myself and headed straight for a cupboard in the corner of the room. As my mother was the head cook, our quarters were in the kitchen. I couldn’t count the number of nights I had fallen asleep to the scent of baking bread.

The false back of the cupboard was still in place. I reached in, feeling for the hole at the corner. Everything was there, all I would need to escape this place, this supposed ‘castle’. The backpack was covered in dust; I had to cover my nose to stop from sneezing. It was one of the few modern items I possessed. The castle had a strict ‘time period’ policy: no technology, no recent clothing, nothing from at least the past hundred years. It came directly from the Queen; she was still relatively new, still paranoid that she would lose her throne.

I pulled the straps tight around my shoulders; if this day had really come, I was going to have to run. In the side pocket was what little make-up I had; a pot of foundation, smuggled in from outside. I opened it and started to cover up my Mark, a small black design that everyone is born with, but Mum’s hand shot out and grabbed my wrist. Her sleeve fell slightly and uncovered her own Mark: a spiral of tiny droplets, the sign that had determined her power.

“Don’t worry about that, there’s no time,” her breathing was fast and shallow, eyes glistening, “Besides, it’s not much use now anyway.” She pulled me into a strong hug, I could feel her trying to hold back the tears.

“Mum-” I started.

“I’m so sorry, we only have a few minutes but I want you to know,” she pulled away, “I only wanted you to be safe, we both did.” She glanced at Dad’s old chair on the other side of the room.

“I know. I miss him too.”

“I know sweetheart. But I need you to know that the only reason we did what we did was for you, to help you.”

“What do you mean? Bringing me here?” I sniffed, frowning.

“That, but so much more. I can’t tell you now, but when you find out, just remember this, please.” She pulled me in for one last hug before pushing me towards the back door. The stairs that began after that led down and out the side of the castle that was least guarded.

I glanced back at the top step, “Okay, I’ll try. I love you.”

“I love you too darling.” She waved her hand and the ball of light was extinguished. It was her sole power, and it wasn’t much, but it was useful and that was all she needed it to be. Her light green eyes were the last I saw of her.



I slipped somewhere around the middle of the staircase and took a few breaths to steady myself. My chest felt tight, I assumed from shock; I’d been emotionally prepared for this for a while now. My parents had been hiding me my whole life, all because of a small black birthmark.

I crouched down just before the door to the outside: there was a large stone in the wall with slightly deeper edges. I slowly pulled it out to reveal my last hidden item. The walking boots were the smallest and lightest that I could find in town but, even though I had to be ready to run at a moment’s notice, these were again too modern to risk being found.

The grass was damp outside, and I edged my way around the first few walls till the light from a gas lamp reached me. One of the windows above was lit up, and I pressed myself further against the wall, hiding from any potential onlookers.

I froze just by one of the gates that lined the castle walls and tried to turn myself into the shadows, melt into the background; a man exited the castle through the gate that was so close to me I couldn’t believe he didn’t see me.

He was obviously a class two, the ones with the triple spiral mark; he couldn’t have been anything else with the fancy clothes he was wearing. Class twos, the general public with the leaf skeleton mark, wouldn’t have been able to afford a jacket that even looked hand stitched. The same went for class fours, the serving class with the spiral of water droplets mark, and class ones, the royalty class with the black sun mark, weren’t known for wearing anything less than hand embroidered, far too expensive, and over the top colourful clothes.

I put my head down once he was off into the distance, raised my hood, and set off. The east wall of the castle, the one I was now walking along, had a path at the end that led south to the forest. That was where my parents had always agreed I would go if I were ever discovered. My Mum was to follow me as soon as she could get away, but I was the priority according to her.

The forest was huge: a massive expanse of trees that ran all the way along the lower border of Ember. It wasn’t fully known how wide this strip of trees was, it could vary wildly from one place to the next, but this section I was walking towards should have been one of the thinner sections. That is, if the information my Mother had researched was correct. This would make the journey through a lot shorter; my goal was to reach the south of our region: Ithuro, the area of almost permanent winter. It was almost impossible to track someone through there. Then again, it could also be incredibly hard to survive. That was why I needed to find the hidden colony.

There had been rumours of a small town, somewhere within Ithuro, where the people figured out a way to not only live in the freezing land, but thrive. I was following those rumours.

The path ran for longer than I had expected and my mind began to wander. I absentmindedly rubbed my mark, mulling over my memories of working at the castle.

It wasn’t a bad life; avoiding the Queen as much as possible and being practically nocturnal cleaning the rooms at night while everyone was asleep. I liked the solitariness of it all, and getting to see my mum every day was a bonus, with us being so close after losing my dad. It was harder on her than on me; I often heard her talking to him when she thought I was asleep or busy. She’d tell him about my life and how I was keeping up with my training; shooting arrows almost every day in the archery ranges.

I hadn’t made many friends in the castle, I even stayed away from the other servant girls, I just liked being on my own. My favourite days were when I got to clean the library on my own. The books always had that certain smell; it was a mix of dust and something else. I liked to finish as soon as I could and then spend the rest of my evening reading. The ones where I could pretend I was someone else, someone normal, in a far away land, were the best. Sometimes you just had to get out of your own head and into someone else’s.

Stubbing my toe on a small rock shook me from my memories. I was now close enough to the edge of the forest that I could see the tips of the trees in the distance. The path had turned into more of a worn, dirt track within thick grass. The walk should have taken around an hour to the edge of the forest, but it hadn’t seemed anywhere near that long so far.

I had a map in my bag, which I reached back and got, unrolling it. It was only rough, no-one had a definitive idea of the dimensions of our country so much of it was estimated or even guessed. The main three sectors of Inglaterra were Ember, where the capital was—and of course where the Queen lived—Ithuro, the winter lands, and Sanna, the land mostly filled with desert.

In the version of our history that I knew, our country had been through a huge civil war many years ago. The most powerful people of each area were at the head of the army, people with the power to move the earth, or control someone’s mind. My skin crawled at that thought.

Many people died on all sides, until, ten years into the battle, one man was found with the ability to instil peace. He travelled throughout the whole country and singlehandedly ended the war. He created a trio of leaders and a council to keep the peace and advise on decisions. The country was separated into its three kingdoms and the hierarchy was put into place.

The exact details after that were a bit hazy for me; when you’re either on the run or hiding in a castle with a paranoid Queen, you don’t tend to learn much in the way of history, or anything else for that matter. All I knew was that now, the Queen was the only leader left and our country had fallen into broken up settlements around the land.

My dad had been my teacher, before he died, but our lessons had been focused on survival skills or fighting techniques. I could hit an apple out of a tree with an arrow from miles away, or beat a man in hand-to-hand combat. Because of him.  I sighed; my dad was still a sensitive topic.

I was close to the edge of the forest then, I could almost smell the leaves, the earth. It comforted me, given that it had been my home for the majority of my childhood. The sun was starting to peek over the horizon so the cover of the forest would be welcome.

As soon as I crossed the tree line I felt the comforting sense of home; the hum of the plants and earth around me brought my magic to life again. It was freeing after being surrounded by stone walls for so long.

I immediately tried to get far enough into the trees so as to not be seen by anyone who might be following me from the castle. I checked over my shoulder every now and again, not stopping till all I could see were the criss-cross of vines and branches over the path I had taken. At every step I pulled at the earth to erase my footsteps; I was no stranger to being on the run.

My legs started to burn after what must have been four or five hours, so I decided to make some shelter. The strip of forest was only a couple of days wide at its smallest part, the part along which I was walking, so I would have to spend at least one night on the ground. I turned my head at something; not exactly a sound, but a sense of something. It felt similar to the basic hum of background magic I felt when I went into town for an errand from people with normal magic abilities who lived there, but it was different somehow. It couldn’t have been another elemental like me, not so close to the capital border.

Just to be safe I pulled some air around me in a way to obscure my silhouette from anyone that might see me. It blurred my outline so I could blend in more easily to the forest, especially with my dark clothing. I kept my head down and continued walking.

I found an area of the woods where there were quite a few leaves on the ground so I gathered them into a pile for a makeshift bed. I placed my palm on the trunk of the tree next to me, at the head of my pile of leaves, and felt for my earth magic. Straight away I linked with the tree, and with it, the rest of the forest around me through the massive system of roots underground. I pulled one of its branches down and asked it to spread its leaves out in an even formation; creating a shelter from the rain and the dying sunlight that was still streaming through the canopy.

I brought some vines down in a camouflage style to hide my shelter. I stifled a yawn, maybe it was time to think about settling down for the night.

The leaf bed wasn’t actually that uncomfortable, for such a quickly made mattress, and my eyes started to droop fairly quickly. Just before I slipped into sleep, I felt that background hum of magic again and my eyes shot back open. I looked around myself and listened carefully, but found nothing, and soon the hum faded away again. My night was fairly restless after that.

* * * * * * * *

I woke at the sound of a leaf crunching underfoot, in the back of my mind I wondered how this stranger got around safely while making that much noise. I opened my eyes sharply, keeping as still as I could, breathing evenly in case I was being watched. My hand slowly brushed through the leaves beneath me to touch the ground, extending my senses through the earth. The forest was feeling disturbances only twenty meters behind me, the sharp pain at the invaders footsteps echoing through the roots of the many trees.

The earth part of my magic was always stronger in a forest, with so many connections between the living plants. I shifted to a medium crouch, still hidden but ready for when the stranger reached me, it was a good thing I was a light sleeper. I pulled a small throwing knife from a pouch in my boot; prepared for a threat, and lightly pulled some of the fog creeping around to cover me.

I heard another leaf crunch, much closer, and sprung forward, grabbing the person’s throat and slamming them into the nearest tree. I felt the same hum of energy I’d been feeling for the past day, it was coming from the intruder. I pushed harder on his throat: he was a young man, only a few years older than me I’d guess.

“You’ve been following me. Why.” My voice sounded rough from under use.

“What?” He frowned at me, coughing at the pressure on his windpipe, “I don’t- Who are you?”

He seemed confused, maybe it was just a coincidence, but he could just have been lying. I backed up slightly, releasing my hold on him but keeping my knife palmed in my right hand just in case.

“You don’t know who I am?” I asked, scanning his face for any clues. He had bright green eyes and dark brown hair; he fit in well in the forest. Now I had a chance to look I saw that his clothes seemed handmade, out of natural materials, maybe all from our surroundings.

“I know you’re easily startled and fairly violent,” he said, rubbing his throat, “But no, I don’t know who you are.” He narrowed his eyes at me.

“Then why have I been sensing your energy for over a day now?” I shuffled my feet into more of a fighting stance, it was only a small gesture, one I hoped he hadn’t noticed.

“You’ve been what?” He pushed away from the tree, gaining some distance between us.

“You know what,” I ignored his question, “For a forest mage you’re not great at stealth.” As soon as I said it I recognised the magic coming from him. That was why it felt familiar; it was the same feeling I got when I connected to the trees. To his credit he didn’t seem shocked, only more curious, and he scanned my clothes and features.

“What makes you think I was trying to be stealthy?” He had an annoying glint in his eye, but I heard the insecurity behind his words.

“Do you say anything other than ask questions?” I shuffled my knife around in my hand.

“I could say the same about you.” He moved back slightly, glancing quickly down at the small blade.

“This is going nowhere,” I glanced up at the sunlight peeking through the canopy, “And I need to keep moving. Forget you saw me.”

“Not going to do that any time soon.” He smirked at me. Whoever he was, he was really annoying me.

“Fine.” I felt for the rays of sunlight and psychically pulled them into a bright sphere in front of the guy’s face. It was only around for a fraction of a second, but that was all I needed. While he was temporarily blinded by the light I ran, thickening the fog as I went, and only stopped when I was safely out of his line of sight.

I took out my compass. Damn it, I’d been turned around at some point and had been running back north. I looked behind me, the fog was much thinner, soon there wouldn’t be enough to hide in. Plus, I didn’t want to risk running into him again. I decided I should go in a wide semi circle, keeping alert, it would add a few hours onto my journey but at least I’d be going in the right direction.

He’d said he didn’t know me, and maybe he was telling the truth, but I barely trusted people I’d known for years, let alone someone I’d only just met. Although, I supposed we were on the same side; forest mages, along with all people with their powers based in the elements had been massacred by the Queen. Those left were forced into hiding. I guess that was why I hadn’t recognised his magic straight away; you don’t meet many elementals out in the open.

It was just more evidence of the Queen’s paranoia. She had the power of foresight; this meant she had visions of the future. One of those visions had shown her something she was terrified by. It was kept very secret, but everyone knew about the mark that was somehow part of it. It was one outside of the main four, the fifth mark, the one of the elementals. After the day of the vision, the Queen had passed a new law, one that made any elemental an outcast, a criminal. Soon vast groups of them were herded up and ‘imprisoned’. I and many others, however, believed the rumours: the mass prisons she had supposedly built to house them were basically slaughter houses. And the ones that she didn’t kill were tortured for information about the threat to her.

That was fifteen years ago, when I was only two years old. My parents knew I was different, the mark on my wrist was proof of that, but my emerging powers were dangerous. If anyone found out about me, I would have been taken from them, and who knows what would have happened to me. Not only was I an elemental, but I was an Optivus: I had power over not just one, but all of the elements. Who wouldn’t see me as a threat in those conditions?

I brushed a fern out of my way and wiped the dew on my trousers. They were made of a thin material that was a great insulator, good for movement and dried quickly, but also would keep me warm along the icy side of the forest while I found the colony marked on my map. Not for the first time I wished I had room in my bag for my bow; I’d need my arrows when I reached [ice country], the lower quarter of our country, the part completely covered in ice. It wasn’t affected by the seasons, just year round snow and frost. Who knew what sort of people lived in a place like that.

My surroundings started to change after a while as I got closer to the lower edge of the forest. The trees grew thinner, leaves less frequent, even the ground felt harder. I shivered, my breath making a small cloud in front of my face as I walked. I brushed the trunk of a tree with my hand as I passed. The earth magic was sluggish to my touch, fainter even. It was like when winter came back at the castle, I felt like half a person; my earth and fire magic hard to reach during the cold months.

It grew colder as I walked, I wished for a fire to warm my hands but that would consume a lot of energy and I needed to be prepared. The ice elementals were extremely loyal people, but they had been known to be aggressive. I couldn’t assume they would just welcome an outsider in with open arms. That, and I couldn’t trust that my water magic would even work in the frozen lands.

The walk was uneventful after that; I occasionally had to cut my way through when the vines grew thick but didn’t need to do much else. My mind wandered; what was my mum doing? Had they caught her? Did they even know that it had been her harbouring the elemental?

A snowflake landed on the tip of my nose, a shock of cold on my skin. The ground was lightly speckled with them, falling through the leafless trees.

 I was close.

The trees soon started to thin even further, and with it the snow thickened, crunching under my boots with every step. Ahead I could now see only a few sparse branches and beyond that, only white. The pure vastness of it was almost breathtaking, but at the same time intimidating. It was one thing to survive in a forest—I’d been doing that for the majority of my life—but surviving in this landscape was something else entirely.

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