The Water Guardian

Ranya Mestrien is only six years old but she already knows she’s a burden on her family. She should be able to manipulate Water at will. Instead she can barely move a droplet. It’s unsurprising, then, that she spends more time with the despised tovariken, those without elemental magic, than in her own home.

The night she slips away from a House dinner and nearly drowns, everything changes. It’s not only the Scion who discovers her soaked on a jetty in the harbour, cradled by the Water Guardian himself. Her parents are there too.

The Water Guardian’s interest seems to indicate she’s not as worthless as everyone thought and now the Scion, third in power in the House of Water, has plans for her.

It turns out family isn’t always who you’re born to.


Ranya waited for a break in the flow of people, then stepped out the door, head held high. Not that it did her any good. At six cycles, and small for her age, she barely reached the lower shoulder on most adults. But she had to look as though she knew where she was going. Her parents were down at the waterfront, part of the escort for the review of the Ambassador’s ship prior to the Scion and her family leaving the Rose City and returning to Water. As long as no one decided she looked lost, she had several hours before her parents returned home.

She turned towards the waterfront, but pulled up short at the scuffle ahead of her on the Water side of the street.

A cluster of half a dozen boys pushed and kicked at something on the ground. Ranya swallowed. She didn’t want to cross the street just yet, but she knew one of those boys. The emblem outlined in turquoise thread on his jerkin was unmistakeable. She had no wish whatsoever to cross Theron, not today. Not ever.

The boys moved and she saw a shape on the ground. As she watched, a hand latched around Theron’s ankle and he hit the ground with a yell. In the gap, she saw a boy, arms flailing, two or three hands punching or grabbing as he kept one arm, sometimes two, over his face to protect it.

Ranya sighed.

She didn’t get the whole ‘them and us’ thing between Tovarikin and Varika. As a Varik, one with the ability to manipulate the element of water, she was supposed to be superior to the four-armed Tovarikin, but there had been numerous occasions when she had strongly wished for a second pair of hands. Particularly as her elemental ability was barely enough to corral drops on a plate.

A prehensile tail whipped around another boy’s ankle and he screamed as his leg went out from under him. Ranya giggled. She wouldn’t have minded a tail, either. She shifted her shoulders. The extra shoulder blades were a reminder that Tovarikin and Varika were all born alike. Any physical differences were down to the midwife’s blade.

The Tovarik was scrambling to his feet. Theron watched from the dust, his face a mask of hate, but then his expression changed, his lips widening in a smile, as water boiled up from a bucket next to a pastry stall and shot straight towards the back of the Tovarik’s head.

Ranya screamed a warning, already running towards them as the wordless cry left her lips, and the Tovarik turned and ducked, but not quickly enough. Water engulfed his head. He clawed at his face, falling to his knees. The Varika watched and laughed, occasionally kicking him.

Ranya looked around desperately. Her eyes lit on a loose stone and she wondered if she dared. Through the circle of Varika, she saw the Tovarik writhing on his back, drowning on dry land. She had no choice. She picked up the stone and threw it with all her strength.

All her strength turned out to be more than enough. The cobble flew, straight and true, striking Theron neatly in the back of the head. He fell across the Tovarik’s legs, and the tov turned his head, coughing up water, then punched Theron firmly in the face before pushing himself unsteadily to his feet. He leapt out of the circle of boys, across the street and down an alley. The other Varika were so shocked by Theron’s collapse they mustered water too late. He was gone from sight before the bubbles could reach him and the water splashed to the ground as they turned to see Ranya, turning red with the realisation of what she’d done.

Theron threw off the Varik attempting to help him up.

“What the fuck happened?” he snarled, then followed the direction one of his friends was pointing – Ranya. Their eyes locked. She turned and ran.

She ducked behind a sausage seller’s stall, but ran again after catching sight of the flicker of fear in the man’s face. She didn’t blame him for not wanting to get involved. Theron’s family emblem was well known. No one wanted to get in trouble with the Ambassador’s family, even if he was a fairly distant cousin.

She dived down an alley on the Tovarik side of the Line, knowing her only hope was to stay out of sight. Shouts behind her and pounding feet alerted her to a couple of facts. One, they weren’t going to let her get away as easily as the Tovarik boy, and two, they were all several years older than her, with correspondingly longer legs.

She twisted and turned, down alleyways, onto the Line and back off again. She saw her destination and risked an all-out run. Something cold and wet smacked into the back of her neck and started crawling around towards her mouth and nose. She didn’t waste time trying to push it away, just ran faster, even though her legs burned and her lungs were exploding. The water reached her tightly closed lips, before rushing upwards into her nose. She hit the door hard, her weight pushing it open, and she fell on the floor, gasping and choking as the water crowded down into her lungs. The door swung shut behind her and the water ceased its attack, the energy directing it cut off as the door hid her from the wielder’s sight. She turned over and coughed and coughed until the floor was soaked and she could breathe again.

Light globes cast a steady light and soft shadows around the shopfloor, but the man beside her blocked it out. She realised he was holding her head and body, supporting her while she retched up the water. A third hand offered a towel which she took to dry her face off and the fourth was braced against the floor, supporting his upper body.

“Upsetting your people again, Ranya?” Tomin’s voice was low, gentle. She’d never seen him angry. He didn’t seem to mind that she was Varik, either. She sat up and he let her go, squatting back on his heels.