The guilds had existed for two and a half thousand years, and it certainly wasn’t the first time that tragedy had struck and claimed the life of an Elemental before their time. It had happened before, and it was sure to happen again, but for Memphis Grey, it was the first time that tragedy had struck so close to home in her own small world.
Since ancient times, the lighthouses had been the secret symbol of the elusive Guilds of the Waterfire Wizards. Standing strong as beacons of safety and stability where water meets fire, each one held the destructive power of the other at bay.
In the beginning, the lighthouses themselves had served the wizards as secret meeting places; each guild had constructed its own place of gathering and refuge. But as the guilds spread throughout the world and into places far from the sea, the image became more symbolic. The iconic form of the lighthouse began to appear everywhere—on walls and signs, over doorways, or cleverly hidden in corporate logos—just look around and you’ll see what I’m talking about. But for those in the know, each lighthouse marks the location of a guild’s secret meeting place.
Memphis’s guild was no exception. Every Thursday at seven o’clock, she would ride through the quiet back alleyways and streets of West Vancouver down to the Park Royal Mall. Leaving her bike in front of the Old Navy store she then would walk across the street to a inconspicuous little door at the back of the Village Taphouse pub and type an access code into the door's keypad. From there she would climb the stairs to the secret room under the building’s pretend lighthouse that the uninitiated simply dismissed as one of the shopping mall's marketing gimmicks.
But on this particular Thursday, Memphis wasn’t there. She was somewhere else instead—the last place in the world that she wanted to be at that particular moment. She was standing in the rain in a cemetery wishing that she and the other mourners were in their secret room, safe and warm as they watched the rain streak down the windows outside. They would drink some hot tea and talk and laugh while playing games—Catan or Monopoly, maybe, or perhaps even the ancient guild game of Pharos.
Every guild must consist of five members, or the guild must disband.
That was the rule, and it had been the rule since long before Samantha was ever born. It was a rule that stretched back as far as the very existence of the guilds themselves, for nearly two and a half thousand years.
Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Aether.
Love and Strife.
Everything had to exist in balance.
But at the moment, the only thing Memphis could feel was strife plunging its painful needles of memory deep into her broken heart. She looked across at Samantha Strong, her best friend, standing next to her at the side of the grave. Samantha was a mess, alternately wiping tears and raindrops from her face as she stared down at the lonely casket being lowered slowly into the ground. Strands of her intense blonde hair fell over her shoulders from underneath the fabric of the black hoodie that was pulled up to cover her face. She didn’t want the others to see her cry. Memphis didn’t care about that and just let the tears flow like rivers of sorrow. She cried just like the dark clouds that were hanging overhead.
Flickers of lightning licked at the corners of the sky, splitting the air and bathing the mourners in a stark, harsh light for an instant before another wave of thunder rumbled through the ground and sky.
Memphis leaned forward and looked past Samantha to the taller figure at her side with tousled brown hair hanging wetly down into his eyes. Ithaca was Memphis’s little brother, and seeing both of them standing there in tears made her heart rip in two all over again. Ithaca was only two years younger than Memphis, and he was old enough to understand what death was, but just like the rest of them, it was the first time that something so tragic had struck so close and taken someone they loved so dearly out of their lives forever.
Memphis turned away from the sight of them and buried her face in her hands, sobbing loudly and coming close to completely losing it. Her eyes darted around the cemetery in a panic, looking for a way to escape. If only she could just push her way through the crowd of black-dressed mourners and make for the cover of the nearby trees. Then she could be alone with her thoughts and just sit and listen to the sound of the rain, and remember.
As she grew anxious and was about to bolt, a warm hand patted her gently on the shoulder, instantly calming her and helping her to get her breathing under control. Memphis looked up to see Samantha’s great-uncle, Winston. Winston Eric Waters was her mentor, and the leader of their guild. With droplets of waters dripping from his gray, speckled goatee, he smiled down at her, his brown eyes full of kindness but just as flecked with pain as hers were. He patted her on the shoulder again then left his hand there, its warmth and weight solid and reassuring against the rest of the world that seemed to be descending into chaos around them.
All of them were there— Memphis, Samantha, Ithaca, and Winston, and below them in the coffin that was now slowly settling into the muddy earth lay the lifeless body of the fifth member of their guild—Christian.
Christian had been a big brother to the three youngest members and a kind of adopted son to Winston. The five of them had been as close as family—closer even, growing up together and learning from each other’s mistakes as they trained and explored the world around them and the fabric of the universe that held it all together. They’d laughed and fought and cried with each other, and together they had somehow shouldered the great responsibilities that came with being an Elemental.
But now, all that was finished. Three nights ago, on a dark, tree-lined street, Christian’s life was snuffed out in a flash of tires and screeching metal. He was dead, and for nothing more than a stupid car accident, the kind of tragedy that strikes friends and families a hundred times a day all across the world. Christian was dead, and if losing their dear friend wasn’t traumatic enough, the very existence of their guild was now in jeopardy. Everything they’d worked so hard to accomplish was in question.
Memphis had absolutely no idea what they were going to do.
She reached into her pocket and gently squeezed the petra stone that she always carried with her; she could feel its power, and took comfort in it as she closed her eyes to block out the tears and falling rain.
What are we going to do? Memphis asked herself.
Christian would have to be replaced; otherwise, their guild would fall. But how could anyone ever replace him? They could never love anyone the way they had loved him.
When the priest finished the ceremony, the mourners began to shuffle slowly back to their waiting cars. Some of them stopped by with words of wisdom and comfort for the four of them—how sorry they were, how time heals all wounds, and how no one can know the sometimes terrible cost that all of us have to pay for being human. But none of the mourners had any idea what the five of them had been through together, or how Christian’s death threatened to unravel all of their lives.
Memphis’s father leaned down to whisper in her ear. He and her mother would wait in the car, and she should take all the time she needed to say good-bye. He smiled at her—a weak and helpless smile full of love and caring—before her mother gave her a hug, and the two of them walked off, melting into the crowd of other black clothes and umbrellas making their way through the forest of gray headstones.
"I know it seems impossible," Winston said after everyone else was out of earshot, and just the four of them were left standing by the grave that was cut like a scar into the side of the hill. "But we’ll find another to take his place. The guild will live on, and so will Christian’s spirit."
The three of them looked up at Winston as he gazed off distantly toward the horizon. A slash of lightning cut through the sky in the east followed by a peal of thunder that washed over the landscape like a thunderous, breaking wave.
Winston was right. There was no other choice, and they all knew it, but that didn’t make the lacerating pain of loss any easier to bear.
Every guild must consist of five members, or the guild must disband.
They all knew the rules. They’d been living by them all of their lives.
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