Waiting a long time; it’d only been a few hours since I began the change. I’d have to ask about that later, thought Scarlet.
‘I should introduce myself properly. I am Sybil Undine, Head of Dunstan Academy for the Gifted and Endowed.’ Scarlet’s parents looked awkward as they shook hands, as if they’d rather be anywhere right now but here. Even an hour ago Scarlet might have felt the same, but now standing outside Dunstan Scarlet felt that this was where she should be, as if she was coming home. Scarlet saw Sybil’s nails had a silver shimmer to them.
‘I can take Scarlet in from here.’
There was a brief look of panic cross Steve and Beth’s faces before they composed themselves to say goodbye. ‘We’ll see you on Friday evening.’ They began their retreat back down the Rowan lined drive waving as they disappeared into the distance.
Sybil led Scarlet through the huge wooden doors, and the smell hit her. Not an unpleasant smell, it was somehow soothing. A mixture of herbs, though she couldn’t tell what they were. It was a spacious area with many corridors and staircases leading away in all different directions. She felt sure she was going to be getting lost in those soon.
‘Right, we’ll head straight up to my office so we can get a few things organised before you get settled into your room, and meet your room mates.’
Scarlet hadn’t even thought about that, she’d been so worried about leaving home that she hadn’t considered that she’d be sharing with other people. What if they didn’t like me? What if I got stuck with someone like Kelly, she thought.
‘I can see you’re troubled. There really is no need to worry, you’ll settle in with them, and I know you’ll become good friends.’
‘How did…’ I began.
‘How did I know? I know many things Scarlet. I knew long before you that you would be coming to us. Everyone here has special gifts. We are all different, though some may be similar or share some of the same gifts. But some of us have gifts that are rare even amongst our kind.’
‘Kelly, the girl I… I did something to. I don’t exactly know what I did.’
‘All has been taken care of. She’s already back to her normal self, with no lasting damage you’ll be relieved to hear.’
Scarlet was relieved, but couldn’t help feeling a twinge of happiness at the thought of Kelly unable to talk or be mean for change.
The entrance to Sybil’s office had a grand, ornate wooden door. Many patterns and things were carved into it; there were swirls and waves engulfing fire, sharks and mermaids floating in clouds and trees, fairies and wolves and many different creatures. It was so intricate you could stare for hours and still not have seen it all. Scarlet felt drawn to reach out and touch it, to run her fingertips across the wood grain.
‘It’s quite something isn’t it? It represents all four of the elements that govern our magic, and all four of the houses within the Academy, and elements of the magical world.’
‘Houses?’ Scarlet had visions of no one wanting her in their house, just like always being picked last for sports teams at school.
‘Usually as each student arrives we only have to check their nails. You may have noticed we have the same colour nails? This is not a common occurrence; you see, as each child goes through the change, they notice the difference first in their nails. They take on the colour of the element that individual has an affinity to. Green for earth, red for fire, yellow for air and blue for water.’
‘So what does it mean when you have silver nails then?’ Scarlet wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.
‘As I said, it’s not common, but it does happen every so often, as you can see from my own nails. It means that rather than having just one element that you draw most power from, you will have the power to successfully control them all.’
Great, thought Scarlet, just when I thought I might just escape being the freak at school, I become a different type of freak!
‘Don’t look so worried, it really is nothing to worry over. It does mean you’ll have a little extra training than some of the others, but not much more. As you’ll soon see we are a very mixed and varied school full of people with all sorts of endowments and gifts, some almost as rare as the quadruple element affinity.’
‘How will you know what house to put me in then?’
‘I have an idea of which house you are destined for, I have the gift of foresight you see. Sometimes this is clouded, often when an event could be influenced or easily swayed and could go in more than one direction. So I’ve devised a spell that will hopefully give us an indicator to confirm one way or another.’
Scarlet was nervous, but also felt a tingle of excitement. Sybil placed four small marble bowls on her desk. One had water; another had what looked like a small piece of cloud, all fluffy like cotton wool. A small flame flickered in the next bowl, and the final bowl had a pile of soil.
‘Stand in front of the bowls and clear your mind. Take your time thinking about each element. As you do hold your hands above each bowl and say “Elements reveal to me, within which I should be.” Then there should be some sign from your chosen element.’
Scarlet did as she was asked, despite feeling a bit stupid stood there with arms outstretched chanting at some bowls. But she was soon feeling the crackling of electricity that she’d felt when Kelly had grabbed her arm.
‘Elements reveal to me, within which I should be.’ As she spoke the water began to ripple as if something had broken its surface.
‘Interesting, go on.’
As Scarlet moved her hands over the cloud it began to swirl and she felt wind blowing against her face. ‘Wow.’
‘Remember to stay focused.’
‘Elements reveal to me, within which I should be,’ the flame flickered and rose, and the warmth of the room intensified until droplets of sweat beaded on Scarlet and Sybil’s foreheads.
‘Let’s see how you get on with Earth,’ said Sybil as she took a handkerchief and dabbed it at her brow.
Scarlet took a deep breath and again said ‘Elements reveal to me, within which I should be.’ The soil immediately began to rise and grow; it looked as if it was forming a small human like shape. Scarlet looked at Sybil to see her reaction and found she had a big beam of a smile across her face.
‘Well Scarlet, I think we can see from our little friend here that Earth is your main element.’
Little friend, she thought, and as she looked down, sure enough a little creature stared up at her, and as their eyes met it suddenly leapt at her. Scarlet screamed and frantically tried to escape, but the little creature just sat on her shoulder and held tight.
Sybil clapped her hands and the little creature hopped back into the bowl. ‘Little friend, this is Scarlet Lyall. She is new to magic; please go slowly before you scare the life out of her.’ The little creature nodded then held out a small hand towards Scarlet. ‘This is a gnome, your elemental.’
Scarlet couldn’t believe she was really doing this, shaking hands with a gnome, a gnome that somehow she had magically brought out of the soil. This day couldn’t get much weirder, she thought as she shook the little gnome’s hand. ‘If I have this quadruple affinity thing, how come only earth showed some sign?’
‘I wasn’t sure we would be able to only see a result from just one house. It seems there is a strong connection to every element; did you not feel the power from each?’
‘Yes, I guess I did, but I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining that.’
‘No, it was very real; it’s been a long time since I’ve seen power that strong in such a young Sorceress. To actually summon an elemental the way you did was quite something for your stage of the change.’
Scarlet couldn’t help but feel a warm glow of pride.
‘We’d better get down to business now then. Like in your previous school we do have a uniform, we provide this for you.’ Sybil held up a green jumper with a tree with a swirl above it embroidered in silver thread. ‘This is the symbol for your house. You’ll find your uniform already in the wardrobe, and drawers in your room.’
‘Will I be sharing a room?’
‘Each dorm has four sharing, as luck would have it there’s a Year 10 dorm with only three students in at the moment. So you’ll get to know some friends from your house straight away. I’ll take you over to the North wing and get you settled in. It’s still lesson time at the moment so you’ll be able to unpack before you’re bombarded with questions!’
My stomach lurched at the thought of meeting my new roommates; I’d be the new kid again. ‘Are there any other students with an affinity to all four elements?’
‘Not at the moment, it’s just you and me within the school, but there are a few others throughout the world. You have no need to worry about being different, as I said before we really are a different and varied group here, you’ll meet others with different rare gifts.’
We were interrupted by loud snores, and looked down to see the gnome curled up asleep on Sybil’s desk. ‘We’ll leave him there while I show you to where you’ll be staying.’
‘What will happen to him now?’
‘We have extensive grounds and woods that he will be able to make himself at home in. He’ll always be your elemental, and will come to you when you summon him.’
Back down winding staircases, and through long, winding corridors they went. ‘Do you have a map, I don’t think I’m going to remember my way round here?’
‘Trust in your instinct and gut feeling, it very rarely leads us astray.’
Once in the north wing we met the teacher who had come to my old school. ‘Scarlet this is your Head of House, Jade Hollis.’
‘We meet again. Welcome to Dunstan, and to the House of Earth,’ she said with a welcoming smile. She turned to Sybil, ‘I can take it from here if you like, and I can show Scarlet around the common room and to her dorm.’
‘Well Scarlet, should you need me you’ll know where to find me. I shall see you later in the dining hall for our evening meal.’
Jade led Scarlet over to the trunk of an enormous tree growing right through the stones of the building. ‘This will only open to those in earth house. Place your hand on the bark and you will see.’ As she raised her hands I could see a green shimmer across her nails.
As Scarlet pressed her palm against the cool, rough bark she felt the tingle of electricity run through her again. As she did the tree began to peel back to reveal a passageway. Jade walked through and beckoned for Scarlet to do the same. The end of the passageway opened out into a huge room filled with big comfy chairs and settees. Trees of varying sizes grew randomly throughout the floor and up walls. The room had a fresh earthy smell, a mixture of churned soil, freshly cut grass, tree bark, sap, all manner of outdoor smells. It was a very peaceful, calming smell and Scarlet took in a few good lungful’s of air.
‘Feels good doesn’t it?’ Asked Jade, obviously pleased at the effect the room had on Scarlet. ‘I can see earth is definitely going to agree with you.’
‘I feel so calm and at peace.’
‘You’re attuned to the element; earth does have that effect on you. I couldn’t say for sure that all the elements would be the same, but I would imagine fire or wind might bring out a more passionate feeling.’ Jade made a sweeping gesture with his arm. ‘This will be your common room where you will spend some of your spare time and be able to meet with other students from earth house.’
As they walked on they came to another room with a huge fridge, and cupboards full of snacks.
‘The food is topped up regularly. Magical training can be exhausting, so plenty of nutritious snacks to keep you all going between meals.’
‘No bars of chocolate then?’
‘Yes, there’s chocolate and other sweet treats but these tend to be available with your meals. We’re not a cruel bunch you know, we all have our weaknesses, and mine is definitely chocolate cake!’
Jade showed Scarlet the bathrooms and some quiet study areas with tables and seats made from trees, or rather trees that were growing and had been formed into usable surfaces. Lastly, they came to the dorms. ‘Here’s your one on the right. I’m sure you can tell which bed is yours.’
There were four beds, each with an intricately carved wooden bed frame. Apart from one immaculately made bed, two of the three other beds were almost identical in being half-made and strewn with books and drawers and wardrobes bursting with clothes. Scarlet’s bed was waiting with fresh sheets and some books. Just as Sybil had said, her uniform was already hanging in my wardrobe.
Jade helped Scarlet unpack her things, and gave Scarlet a timetable.
‘I’ll leave you to get settled then. Lessons will have finished now so your roommates should be here any minute.’
Just as Scarlet was about to protest about being left alone to introduce herself to her new roommates, the door burst open and three girls came racing in.