March 29, 2012
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They call me "selamat", or "survivor" here in Indonesia. I guess I can let them think that -- life sure is easier now that they do. Funny thing is, my name even sounds like "selamat" --Selemara. Selemara and her raven-black hair braided with hawk feathers. Selemara and her raven-black eyes flecked with silver. Selemara and her pretty face, like the raven goddess's: Fuërra. Selemara is perfect in every way to be a hero -- to everyone, everything.

To everyone except me, that is.

Sure, I'm one of the Seven, the Seven Elementals who control each of the elements: fire, water, sky, earth, song, day and night. But despite everything, despite my power over sky, I can't ever seem to change anything.

Don't get me wrong, in training I'm perfect. I'm smarter, faster and stronger than all my peers, even Water. No matter how hard Chitziru tries, he can never make the sky rain when I want it dry. I can even allow night to be brighter than day. I am brilliant... until the tests are taken out into the real world.

But, thirteen days ago, the war horns sounded. The Seven, each body eighty-four moons old, each mind eons more experienced, lined up at the castle gates. We had been summoned. A god had been released -- after all, they were the only foe dangerous enough to be announced by the horns.

There are seven Gods -- one for each Element. After an Elemental dies, they duel their Element's God. If they are victorious, they take the place of the God who lost. If the Elemental fails, they perish from memory. It is every Elemental's goal to become a God. They live for nothing else, and nothing else is expected of them.

But when a God is released by another God, it's a free-for-all. Anyone could win. Anyone could become a God early. They could reign for millennia. They just have to be the first to kill the God. Of course, the Trainers have to be fair. We're forced to travel to the Temple together, as one.

We walk in a horizontal line; to the far right is Fire, then Earth, then Water, then Song, then Day, then Night, and, furthest left, is myself. We don't talk (especially not Song, who doesn't talk at all, but weaves spells in the guise of music) and we never step out of sync. Until the God frees us, we are tied to one another: a single brain.

Commoners framed the streets, throwing sacred lily petals at our feet, gracing us with speed and luck. Family members sobbed and wished us victory, but our faces remained impassive. We were remembering our training, trying to draw every last bit of spare energy from our Element into our bodies. Children sang for us, and we pretended to enjoy it -- after hearing the song of Song herself, mortal voices are like staring at Medusa: putrid.

As we marched through the mobs of people, our heads raised in what was called "disciplined pride," the Trainers brought out the whips. The whips were the simplest physical endurance test -- if anyone fell, they were killed. If the Elementals couldn't be the Gods themselves, they had to be the closest thing possible.

Mika, my Trainer, brought the whip down on my back, tearing through my ebony-feathered cloak. I inwardly cursed -- I'd woven it myself just two suns ago. I sensed the feathers grow heavier as they soaked up my blood, but I didn't feel anything. No pain. I felt nothing after the first lash, the second, and the third. At the fourth lash, there was a vague tugging sensation that was only minutely uncomfortable, but I was worried. If I was weakening now, how could I face a God?

"Pass!" screamed the Trainers, letting us know that no one had been left behind. We were still walking, still in formation. We always had been. Nothing could stop us.

We had exited the city. The Temple was above us, on the ledge of Mt. Rtukiu. If we had looked upwards, we would have seen the Temple's great stone walls, covered in paintings and sculptures of all the Gods. There were statues of us, too, but if we were to die, they would be destroyed.

We proceeded up toward the Temple, following the weather-beaten path. It was dark but for the torchbearers, for if it had been any time other than sunrise, when day and night are at equal power, the battle would have been unfair. A man stepped forward, swathed in a robe as crimson as the clouds. He gestured at the Temple, which was now ten footsteps away. He spread his arms wide, looking at us expectantly.

All was motionless for one heartbeat, the only noise the trickle of the stream to the north.

Then we exploded. Fire lit his body ablaze, eyes fading to black. Earth made the mountain tremble, rocks crashing to the dirt. Water caused the river to swell, giant fish leaping among its waves, fanged and poisonous. Song parted her lips and the wild things howled, sprinting from across the mountainside to get to her. Day bathed the Temple in golden light, her sun rising faster than was possible. Night countered Day by raising his stars beside the sun, making them shoot across the sky like snow. I called upon the lightning to strike, purple streaks of it setting trees on fire. My thunder rolled, and all was silent again. We had displayed our power to the God. Now the God was to be identified.

It was, perhaps, a few moments later when something bellowed inside the Temple. It was like thunder, but not. The sound wracked my bones, but I made sure my body did not shake. I set my jaw and simply waited.

Long after the noise had subsided, the ground still quaked. It trembled as if trying to buck us off its back. Debris plummeted down the mountainside, vines wove themselves blindingly around the tree trunks and small mountains rose alongside the columns of the great Temple. The God of Earth had been released.

The man in red jumped away, his face ashen. The torchbearers threw their fires aside in a hasty bow, and their voices were as thin as lily pads as they prayed. We, of course, could not move. We had only but to watch, and breath, and let fate carry out its mission.

Suddenly, all around us was still. The earth did not shake, the vines ceased their frenzied race and the mountains seemed to be paralyzed. Our fourteen eyes were fixed on the Temple's entrance, unmoving, unblinking. Our hearts slowed, saving the blood for when we needed it. Chitziru took the sweat from our hands, using the liquid to gain more energy. I should have thought about that… now he had an advantage.

The sky was purple, a mixture of Night and Day, with the sun raised at midday and the stars dazzling all around. The torchbearers' lights went out, and their bodies dissolved into millions of gray particles. Without their flames, the demons had nothing to hook their souls onto. The man in red sprinted down the mountainside, but vines shot out of the dirt and wrapped around his legs. He yelped and struggled against them, but they broke him, then devoured his remains.

We looked on, impassive. We had not come here for this. We did not care. We came to become a God.

If I had been allowed to think I would have dreamed about defeating the Earth God. I would have basked in the possibility of being the second Sky Goddess in the Above, overpowering the other Elements. I would have fantasized about my throne, the older Sky Goddess, Trylys, mentoring me, and my replacement Elemental back on the planet praying to me. But I was locked with the Seven. I could not think.

So it was no surprise I wasn't frightened when the God stepped out of the Temple. Hysuras was tall. His hair was brown, like tree bark. His skin was darker, like dirt. His eyes were hazel, and sprouting from his neck were mushrooms, like the kind you see on rotting logs. His body looked maybe two hundred forty moons; he was a young God. I vaguely wondered with the Seven what he had done to anger another God to the point where that God released him for battle.

Hysuras took another step, and the pathway split underneath our feet. "I am Hysuras." The God opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Instead, there was his voice in our heads, rough and gritty. "I have come to challenge you. Step forward and be liberated."

I blinked, then dove for cover inside a bush. I swallowed, and watched Chitziru, who had not hidden, send floodwater pouring upon Hysuras. Tentacles lashed out from it, dagger-studded and dripping toxin. Hysuras opened a chasm below the monster and watched it fall, then turned his eyes to Chitziru. He smiled.

Lilies rained down from the sky upon Chitziru, white, orange and pink. I spotted Rowkil as he leapt out from behind Chitziru, his body still sparking and smoking. He raised a flame-licked hand and the lilies crashed to the dirt, charred and blackened. Chitziru was lifted from some sort of trance and summoned hail from the Above, targeting Hysuras.

Hysuras's smile had grown wider, and vines shot up from the mountainsides and wove a net around their God. It grew thicker and thicker, until Hysuras was hidden from view.

Chitziru and Rowkil, Water and Fire, crouched, their hands raised. Their eyes were fixated on the dome. After a breath, Rowkil lit it ablaze. "Show yourself!" he spat through his teeth.

The net exploded, and from the ground rosebushes wrapped themselves around the Elementals' legs. Blood trickled down from where the thorns slashed them, but they didn't seem to notice the pain. They were frantically trying to rid themselves of the rapidly-winding thorns, and they were failing.

Hysuras laughed, watching as Rowkil attempted to burn his restraints. Chitziru conjured ice to gnaw through and freeze the python-like thorns, but they were too fast. Soon, all that was left of the two Elementals were tiny, stubby child's hands still clawing at the rosebushes. Rowkil's fire had gone out thanks to Chitziru's ice, and by now, Chitziru's hands had gone still. Hysuras brought a boulder down from the mountain, crushing Fire and Water for good.

Hysuras laughed manically, and while he was distracted, Vinnia emerged from inside the Temple. Her blond hair was all around her, swaying in circles to a wind that wasn't there.

She parted her lips and let loose a song, angry and savage as the dragon that had appeared above her. Vinnia did not stop singing. She let a small smile creep its way onto her face.

I lost sight of the dragon as Kerr sunk his stars and removed all light from the sky. It was darker than First Night. I couldn't see a thing.

Then, something bright and silver appeared, hurtling towards where Hysuras used to be. It got bigger and bigger until I realized what it was: a falling star.

I shielded my body just in time before the star stuck the planet. There was a "thud" as it hit the earth's surface, then another and another. I heard a cry, a scream and a reptilian roar. The sky got lighter, and I could see again. Then something was choking behind me.

Kerr was sprawled on the ground, grass holding him down. It was wrapped around his throat, cutting off his air. "Selemara," he rasped, his voice a high, pathetic plea. I turned away. Now I had one less competitor.

Surrounding Hysuras were three fallen stars and a sapphire dragon. The meteorites were still sizzling. The serpent's wings were still unfurled from its flight. Its nostrils flared and its yellow eyes were narrowed to slits. Vinnia was singing somewhere above me, her voice lilting and shrill. The dragon's head swayed from side to side, mimicking the notes of Vinnia's song like a python to a snake charmer. Its scales glittered in the gathering sunlight – which was no doubt Day's doing – and plumes of smoke rose from its throat, wreathing Hysuras's face in smog.

Hysuras didn't cough, only mortals cough. He didn't wave the smoke away, either. Instead he stepped back into it, shrouding his body so it was almost hidden from view. Vinnia's song faltered the slightest bit, her voice catching on a note, and the dragon seemed to lost focus. It snorted and its giant, spade-like head swerved back and forth. Its talons dug into the dirt as if it were trying to restrain itself.

Then Hysuras was gone behind a veil of more haze than should have been potential. Vinnia's melody rose to a panicked scream, but she kept singing. I heard the "snap" of breaking rocks and Vinnia suddenly faded to a muted whimper. I cast my eyes around the Temple and found her, half buried in the rubble of a Temple column. There was an abrupt silence, and Vinnia's free hand started clawing at her neck, her face petrified. There were delicate-looking blue flowers curling around her throat, making her song impossible. Hysuras was still hiding.

Without Vinnia's voice to guide it, the dragon lost all control. It roared and spat white fire, burning the grass. Its madly-swaying head locked its attention on the only moving prey it could see: Vinnia's straining body.

I did the only thing I could – I looked away. I heard the monster's heavy footfalls as it thundered over to Vinnia, I heard its teeth clink together as it ate her. I try not to remember.

That left five of us: a God, a hunger-crazed dragon, Day, Earth and me. In simpler terms, there was an immortal, a demon and three Elementals. Now whoever broke cover had to deal with double the risks. I kicked myself for not plucking up the courage to challenge Hysuras earlier. But there was something deep inside my mind that told me not to go, never to go. It told me I was too important to die for this, because death at this point was inevitable.

The others seemed to realize that, too. Hysuras dissolved his smoke curtain, his teeth flashing ivory in the sunlight. There was a pause, a quiet one. There were no birds. There was no wind. Someone had to show themselves… soon…

That's when the sun started to expand. It glowed so brightly the radiance was surging through my skin. I shut my eyes against the harsh light, and that's when I felt the sun explode. There was a glow outside my eyelids then the ground seemed to jump. I heard a blast so loud I leapt in the air in surprise.

After that, the light outside my eyelids was dark, too dark. I opened my eyes and there was nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Allegra had blown up the sun using the last of her strength, ending her life. She had been desperate… but I don't blame her. No one else does.

To my left there was a trail of white fire in the dark, coming from the dragon. I froze, hoping it still hadn't caught my scent. I caught the flicker of its yellow eyes and kept them in my vision, watching to see what it would do.

Another bout of fire came, lighting a nearby tree like a candle. I saw Hysuras and Sparign, identical God and Elemental, shooting thorn-barbed trees and vines at one another. Sparign split the earth under Hysuras's feet, dropping him towards the Below, but Hysuras caught himself with plants. He climbed up, deflecting the Elemental's boulder with a pine tree.

Hysuras rose, breathing hard. He looked at Sparign, and mouthed something I didn't hear in my head.

This made me freeze. Did Hysuras think me dead, too?

Sparign responded to whatever the God had told him by planting quicksand underneath him, trapping him. Hysuras laughed, catching himself with vines again. He even wrapped some around Sparign, writing the Elemental's death sentence.

They both knew it.

Sparign didn't even try to free himself. He had always been the wisest one in training. He recognized futility when he saw it.

Hysuras chuckled, trying to hoist his body out of the quicksand.

He didn't move.

Hysuras started to sweat. Long after the vines had taken Sparign into the dirt, Hysuras let out a bellow. He was ensnared, too. His energy was too weak. He was going to die.

I watched, horrified, as the Earth God slowly sunk to his doom, writhing all the way. My hands were clammy – I'd never seen a God die before.

The dragon, however, could care less. It romped over to Hysuras's head (which was all that was left of him) and bit down onto it, stepping ignorantly into the quicksand. It was too stupid to try and liberate itself. Instead, the beast greedily hunted for the rest of Hysuras's body. It didn't even notice it was sinking until it couldn't move its lower body. Its wings weren't strong enough to pull it skyward.

I gaped. Not a sun ago, we had been Seven. Now I was One... the One – the survivor. The selamat. The King found me, and spotted the statues of Hysuras and the other six Elementals in the Temple ruined. It had been obvious what they thought: I had defeated Hysuras because my statue was the only one left standing.

Plus, I was alive.

They're not sure how long it will take until I become a God, but they know it will come.

Let them think that.

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