Mai Wintersoar sat in the Lifeguard chair above the indoor pool, her hair tied back in a braid, and her crystal blue eyes scanning all the children. Mai was one of the youngest registered lifeguards at the complex and took her part-time job seriously. Through the large windows the teenager could see the overcast, rainy day. March in Kagoshima City was always a wet season, cold and bitter. Winds from the bay made it worse. Inside Mai longed for the summer. She loved the water and loved swimming out in the ocean more. These indoor pool complexes didn’t feel the same with all the chemicals.
“Yo, Mai!” Ani called. “How’s it going?”
“Fine,” Mai answered, her eyes never leaving the children under her watch. Ani was a close friend, her only friend. She had started as a babysitter when Mai and her mother Nori first moved to Kagoshima thirteen years ago. Since then, Ani had become her mentor in many areas, including swimming. The two went to the same school and were on the same swim team. When Ani got her lifeguard credentials, Mai wasn’t far behind and two worked together either at the local swimming pool or in the bay during the summer months.
“Listen, there was this weird woman asking for you at reception,” Ani stammered out. “I told her you were working, but she may be lurking outside still.”
Mai looked down at Ani with a curious look. “Weird, how?”
“I don’t know… but hey maybe you should get your mom to pick you up. You know be careful.”
“Mom’s off in the mountains for the weekend, working,” Mai answered. She wondered who this stranger might be. It reminded her of a dream she had the previous week.
“Off again? What can she do in the mountains at this time of year?” Ani asked, gazing out the window.
“She’s an Environmental Scientists, her job takes her to odd places at odd times. I don’t ask questions anymore,” Mai said with a smile and pride in her chest. Her mother worked for the Japanese Government helping to preserve and maintain conservation areas.
“Raising a kid can’t be easy,” Ani replied. “I can always walk you home.”
“I’m not six anymore, I’ll be fine,” Mai said. “Besides, Riku, Suki and I have a race set up after the complex closes.”
“You and your races. You’re too good for them.”
“I know, but they never stop asking.”
Fifteen minutes later the last whistle of the day blew, a signal that all lessons were over. Kids scrambled out of the pool and hurried to the locker rooms. Teachers and lifeguards stayed behind. A race with Mai Wintersoar was not to be missed.
The three stood at the edge of the deep end, stretching and preparing for the race.
“Four laps,” Suki said. “Freestyle.” Riku and Mai nodded as they approached the edge. Ani raised her hand and blew the whistle. All three jumped in to the warm water with a loud splash – except Mai. When she hit the water, it was smooth and without sound. It was as if the water welcomed her.
Suki and Riku were both older than Mai, and stronger, but that didn’t stop her from gaining an early lead. She reached the far side of the pool first before turning and kicking off in the opposite direction. Those watching cheered and yelled encouragement.
Mai was the fastest swimmer in Kagoshima. She didn’t even take a breath the first length of the race. There had been talks about the Olympics by her coaches, but Mai shot down all attempts knowing it would just complicate her life further.
It was on the last lap when Mai confidence was at its peak she glanced down along the bottom of the pool. Through her goggles a shimmer caught her attention. The shimmer turned into the shape of a girl. She had red hair and surrounded by flames. The girl then reached out towards Mai. For help or to drag her down, the teenager didn’t know. She felt a wave of dread and destruction coming up towards her.
The vision caused Mai to falter as she struggled to finish the last few strokes. When Mai poked her head out of the water, it was to discover she did not finish first.
“So the Fish finally lost,” Suki said coming up third. “I guess she’s human after all.”
“Shut up Suki,” Ani said, helping Mai to her feet. “The race is over.”
With everyone satisfied with the show, they moved to the locker rooms.
“Mai – what was that?” Ani asked as they moved to the woman’s locker room. “You never lose.”
“Nothing, I just focus.”
“You never lose focus.”
“Just drop it,” Mai said drying herself off with the towel as she walked to the locker room.
“You’re flaking again,” Ani said with a tease. She picked up a silver scale. It was the reason Mai received the nickname ‘Fish’. Every time her skin touched water, these silver-green and blue scales appeared. “You sure you’re not allergic?”
“Maybe to the chlorine,” Mai answered. Everyone thought it was skin irritation or disorder. Nobody knew the truth and Mai wouldn’t tell them.
“Good one. Still, you should go back to the doctors. This isn’t normal.”
“Ani, I’m fine. It’s not life threatening, so just drop it.”
It was dark outside when Ani and Mai exited the complex. Ani moved towards the bus stop before stopping and tugging on Mai’s arm.
“There she is,” Ani nodded her head to their left where a woman in a long blue coat stood out from the crowd. She stared right at them. “Mai, please come with me. She gives me the creeps I don’t want you talking to her along.”
“Ani go, you’ll miss your bus,” Mai sighed. That vision still lingered in her mind and made her uneasy. Ani’s overprotectiveness annoyed her. Mai waited until her friend was on board before turning to walk straight towards the stranger.
“You were asking for me?” Mai asked. Her tone was harsh. If this was anything like her dream she knew who this person was.
“I was, my lady,” the woman said, with a bow. She had a greenish blue eyes and under her toque were strands of green hair. “I do not wish to alarm you but the Wintersoar’s sent me. Your father’s family.”
“I thought so,” Mai said with a sigh. There was a look of surprise across the woman’s face. “I mean, I had a dream about this meeting last week.”
“I see. You get these visions often?”
“I do,” Mai answered, her body tensing up. She told no one about her visions, except her mom, and even then she felt like a freak.
“A common trait amongst the Wintersoars,” the woman said with a smile. “My name is Jina. I’m here to create an open conservation between you and your father’s family.”
“You want questions? I have a ton!” Mai shouted. “Why is it now, after sixteen years of my life, is my father’s family just getting in contact with me? I have scales appear whenever I have a shower, or swim! What’s with that? I have these visions I don’t understand half the time and scare me to death. Are they real? Am I crazy? I would have loved to hear from the Wintersoars years ago!”
“I know you are upset m’lady, but you must understand the two worlds are not as well connected as in the past,” Jina explained. “Please, calm down. I’m here to answer all of your questions.”
Mai folded her arms in front of her chest. She was angry, but not at the woman. Jina was the messenger, not a blood relative. “My mom is out-of-town, our apartment is only a few blocks away.” Mai answered. Jina nodded her head, and the two walked off.
“Tell me, m’lady Wintersoar, how much of your father do you know?” Jina asked as they walked.
“My mother tells me about him often,” Mai answered carefully. “He was a kind man, and generous. I know they knew each other for a few months… but he seemed to sweep her off her feet.”
“He must have cared for your mother a lot,” Jina said.
“She found him in the mountains not far from here, injured. Mom brought him down and tended to his wounds, that’s how they met.”
“The war. It was a terrible time for our people.”
Mai went silent. A dark image went through her mind, one that dealt with her father’s death. She was six when that vision appeared. It was at swim practice… she almost drowned and wouldn’t go back into the water for a whole week. Since then Mai realized how nasty her visions could be.
“He died in the war,” Mai stated. Jina looked over at her and frowned. There was no hiding the truth from this woman. For years Mai had been wanting to ask why her father died. Her mother knew nothing – even kept thinking he was alive somewhere. Mai knew that was a fantasy and demanded, even prayed at the local shrine that the spirits would answer her. It took six years.
“Your father was strong and brave.”
“He died by a sword in the back,” Mai spat. “Someone betrayed him!”
“Yes… I know,” Jina said with a low tone.
The two had reached the apartment building and climbed the two flights to the apartment. It was a clean, well-kept two bedroom apartment that stood on a hill. A spectacular view of the bay could be seen out of the large south-facing windows.
“So, they don’t know what happened either,” Mai stated.
“No, the Wintersoars have struggled to find the identity of the killer for years. It has been a weight on their shoulders all this time. There were many deaths on both sides. They concluded his killer died in the final battle.”
“I don’t believe that!” Mai shouted. She slammed the door shut behind them and moved to the kitchen to boil water for tea. “I will find out who killed him. I’m his daughter, I want whomever is responsible to pay!”
“Such determination… you are very much like the Mistress Wintersoar – your grandmother,” Jina said with a smile. “I believe they will like you very much.”
“So, what aren’t they here?” Mai asked, the bitterness still in her tone. It was one thing to learn about her long-lost father’s family, another to know they prefer to send a messenger instead of an actual family member.
“They are busy Fae, with a country to run themselves. Not to mention, they don’t know how well you would take the news. To them, it is more political to have a mediator present before a meeting can take place. But I will assure you they will want to meet you after my report.”
“Fae? Country? Are they Lords or Emperors?”
“Yes, they are. Rulers of the Rynial Islands,” Jina answered. “My family have served their family – yours – for generations.”
“Fae… as in the western fairies?” Mai asked, placing two cups of hot tea on the table before for them. “I thought those were just myths, legends? Aren’t fairies small and have wings?”
“A popular misconception by human interpretations. The Fae are not at all like those small pixies you described.”
“I always pictured my father a spirit from local folklore. Protectors and Guardians of rivers and forests,” Mai said with a blush of embarrassment.
“To some cultures that was what we were… to others we were a menace. There was conflict, those with magic decided to return to our own world. Only the stories remain of the time magic and humans got along.”
Mai listened but had a hard time understand what that meant. Who was she then? Spirit, human or Fae?
“So, why now?”
“I came to introduce you to the magic world. You are now sixteen and therefore will start Silverleaf Academy in May.” Jina pulled out a worn looking envelope from her pocket and placed on the table in front of Mai. “You must understand, Silverleaf Academy is the most famed magic schools in Aihine. All Wintersoars have attended the school. When your name appeared on their lists, the head of the Wintersoar family agreed you should be welcomed into the family, officially.”
“Head of the family? You mean they knew about me this whole time but I was never a Wintersoar until my name came up on the list?”
“Correct. As your mother is human, they feared you would possess none of the magic of your father’s family. If that was the case, it was pointless to interact with you and show you a world you would never belong in.”
Jina’s smile and upbeat explanation rubbed Mai in a negative way. To the teenager it sounded like she was a bastard that didn’t deserve her father’s name.
“Perhaps I don’t belong there,” Mai said, leaving the letter alone. “Besides the visions, and my unusual skin, I don’t have any magic.”
“Please don’t doubt yourself m’lady!” Jina explained quickly. “Visions are a rare gift and proves your powers go much deeper. All you need is knowledge and practice. Silverleaf Academy will help you discover more about your magic and your family.”
Mai’s blue eyes stared down at the envelope. This was her chance to find a place that wouldn’t scoff at her scales, her visions, and she could even learn about her father. She knew staying here wouldn’t help her achieve her goal. This was it, her answer after all these years of questioning.
“One condition,” Mai said, her back straight and her voice taking on a more confident and authoritative tone. “I want magic lessons before this school year starts.”
“I’ll attend Silverleaf Academy. But I am not going without knowing a few magic spells first.”
“Of course. I would be happy to give you a few lessons,” Jina said just as she reached down into her bag to pull out a few books. “In case you said yes, I brought a few notes and books to help you prepare. The school year begins the day after May Day, so you have a few weeks to practice.”
Mai pulled a books toward her. It was full of spells, incantations, magical objects and postures. She hadn’t expected Jina to be so well prepared.
“This is great… thank you,” Mai said, sounding awed.
“I am your servant. It is my duty to prepare you prior to entering the magical realm.”
“Then it’s a deal,” Mai said with a nod.
Part 2 of 4 Prequel series of 2015 NaNoWriMo story: Silverleaf Academy – Cinderbluff