Chapter 76 – Exhausted
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The group traveled the barely visible road from the Mabu kingdom, under the Rosiq Royal Family, to the more familiar Thules kingdom under the Silver King, Kohl. It wasn't an easy road to travel, as solid stone with no dirt layer made their steps even more difficult.

When they passed Aros, only a few guards were seen, with the town doors shut tightly. According to the commotion within the town, there had been looters who returned secretly, and attempted to steal everything not nailed down.

"I hear some voices that say it's one of the Inaris." Shaala said.

"Figures. Also, the forest denizens are returning." Nuri said. "None of them approach us though." She said as Elena looked left and right.

"Keep that ability of yours active, Nuri. Dark panthers are beyond our ability right now." Ivadra said. "I can't sense any movement of the dark elements, so there are none hiding nearby."

"Understood, Ivadra." Nuri said softly, and continued to keep her senses on the forest. They continued to their home, and tried not to stir up any trouble as they passed. Elena probably could hurt a panther, but would have a lot of difficulty killing one, if she could even succeed at her amount of strength.

Once at the gate, they let out a collective restrained breath, but Nuri tensed back up again.

"She's not here!" Nuri said with a frown. "Shaala, can you run up the mountain?" Shaala didn't confirm that she would, but ran out of the courtyard.

"She's really not here?" Nadya asked in a worried tone.

"There are no signs of life within the walls. Master taught me how to look for life, but also, can you feel her here?" She asked. Nadya shook her head.

"No, we all know where she is when she's close by, but I can't sense her anywhere." She said, and looked a bit concerned. She immediately turned as she heard Shaala return.



* * *


Nuri sat over Aila, her hands ran over her body, and frowned heavily.

"Ellie, can you tell if she contains water elements?" She asked. "She doesn't feel like she's injured, but she's asleep. And incredibly hot." Ellie went over and grimaced.

"Elena, help me." She said quickly. They both rushed out and carried pail after pail of ancient spring water back to the manor. Each pail was emptied before they could get in the door. They walked back out and had no intention of stopping.

"Do you think we should bring her to the spring?" Elena asked her. They spent the last two hours bringing her water, but it was never enough.

"I don't know, sis. She's not dry. She's trying to cool herself off, and balance herself out." She said quietly, then looked up. "Is that what I think it is?" A small white flake fell from the sky and hit her on the nose.

"What are the chances?" Elena whispered. "Does Imera provide her with what she needs to advance, and help heal her body?"

"Maybe. Let's get this water back, and see if she will take the snow from the air, or will we have to wait for enough to fall?" Ellie asked, but her sister knew her well. She didn't want an answer from Elena. She wanted her Master to answer.

When they got back with their next four pails of ancient spring water, both of their jaws dropped. It was a veritable blizzard within the confines of the stone wall of their manor.

In the middle of this blizzard, Aila sat on the stone in the courtyard, rapidly absorbing it all. Not one flake fell to the stone pavers, and not a single breath of cold air made it inside the manor.

Their companions stood outside the main door, and watched in awe, and complete reverential devotion. Now they knew she could absorb all the elements.

On Imera, except for a rare few, all its people had one elemental affinity only. If they absorbed an element that they had no affinity for, it was a poison to them. They could adapt to it, but it would never truly strengthen them.

Aila was the sole exception. She could absorb all elements and grow stronger each and every time.


* * *


"I'm going to sleep a lot longer this time." Aila said to the group. "Elena, practice by absorbing the elements to create a trench in the bathroom to the outside. If it slows down the pressure, ease off and go outside. Line the trench, but block the hole so nothing gets inside."

"Okay, Master." Elena said softly.

"Ellie. Concentrate on the water movement, absorption, and removing it from the tub. Have Kaala sanitize it with flames. Always use ancient spring water. It's better for you." Ellie nodded and sniffed.

"Okay, Master."

"Ivadra. Be diligent. You can weaken any enemy, and even overwhelm a dark panther. They have dark elements. Just take it from them to reduce their strength." Aila held each of their hands as she lay weakly on the bed. She yawned.

"Nadya, Alara. Daylight. Absorb all the time. No days off. Shaala. Upstairs, highest point...yawn...all day, every day. As much as you can handle. Kaala. Have Elena hunt some flame wolves from time to time. Absorb from the core, and from the daylight. There are flame elements, just not as much."

"Master." Each one spoke quietly.

"Nuri. Share duties, and guide gently. Go with Elena to harvest a tree, and make firewood. If you gain the finer skill in wood shaping, make planks, dishes, cups, utensils. Even sell to Rirn when they are good quality." She sighed and closed her eyes, for a few seconds.

"Look out for each other, but don't forget to keep me warm." Her voice trailed off slowly. "I don't want to sleep alone." Nuri sniffed a bit.

"Nadya, please keep Master warm today. I'll take care of her tonight." Her lip trembled. "Kaala, don't forget your bacon business, but don't stress our supplies. Without Master to hunt, Elena will need Ivadra to weaken the prey. Everyone has a job. We need to grow stronger in order to support our Master." Nuri walked into the kitchen, while Nadya laid down on the bed, and moved Aila so she could help to keep her warm.

"She's not injured. She's just tired. She's not injured. She's just tired." Ellie grasped her sister's hand as she whispered that over and over.

"Elena." She looked at her quickly as though startled. "You're not lying to yourself. She is tired. Can't you feel it?" Elena frowned.

"She's advancing, Elena." Nadya said from the bed. "She's finally completed the first stage, and is now advancing."

If they could see within her space, they would know that she wasn't advancing. All the spaces for her gems were filled, lit, and currently undergoing a process of transformation.

Aila was not advancing from one stage to another.  She was evolving.