Naturally, the rain would start just as Ariana got to the beach. The families and other vacationers were packing up their things and hiking back to their rental condos. The clouds were heavy and dark, and had appeared with hardly any warning. Only a few adventurous people stayed on the sand. There was a young couple making out on a towel, not willing to let a little storm get between them. There was a girl in a green swimsuit that matched her hair, sitting directly on the sand, watching the waves grow. And there was Ariana, seventeen years old, wearing the purple bikini she'd been so eager to show off, with hardly anyone to show it off to.
Well, Ariana wasn't the type to worry too much about the rain. She cast an umbrella-shaped barrier over herself, sat in her folding chair, and took a sip from her water bottle. This rain had started awfully suddenly. The sky had been perfectly clear and blue when she left her parents at the condo.
She focused her aura into her fingers, and sent it out into the sand. A column rose up, and she made it dance and whirl around. A small boy gasped as he passed by, trailing after his parents. "Are you a witch?"
Ariana chuckled. "Got me." She shook her finger, and let the column collapse. The boy gasped again.
"Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"
"The good kind, I hope," Ariana said. In the distance behind the boy was the monument erected seventeen years ago, the year Ariana was born, commemorating the final battle between the Orlynne sect of witches and the Effka sect. That battle had taken place on this very beach, ended the war, and resulted in reunification after 300 years.
"But are you Orlynne or Effka?"
"Both." Her mother and father had met on the battlefield on opposite sides, and like many couples of their generation, had risked a lot to bring her into the world. She still had family members on both sides she'd never met because they were so opposed to her parents' marriage. "You see—"
The boy heard his name and ran off. Ariana wished she could have shown him more. Magic wasn't exactly something to show off, but over the centuries, the Effka had developed a reputation of incredible power and severity and austerity, inspiring fear and suspicion among ordinary humans. The Orlynne, on the other hand, had always operated in the open.
Which made her wonder about this rain. Now even the couple that had been making out finally got up and left. It was just Ariana and that girl over there in the green swimsuit. The green girl didn't seem especially bothered by the storm at all. In fact, she had her arms stretched out as if she were embracing it.
The green girl flicked her wrist, and off in the distance, a lightning bolt struck the ocean.
Ariana shot out of her seat as the thunder rumbled over the beach. Another witch! It was all so obvious now—that green girl was controlling the storm! Just to make sure, Ariana closed her nictitating membrane so she could see the green girl's aura. Sure enough, that aura was blue—non-witches had thin yellow auras—and it had the two horn-like protrusions that were a dead giveaway for long-distance magic. And for what, to drive everybody off the beach? Sure, a witch needs her privacy, but this was a bit much!
Ariana wasn't going to let this scare her off. She loved meeting other witches. The green girl looked like she was the same age, and while Ariana had plenty of friends, she had all too few witch friends.
When she arrived at the green girl's spot, she said, "I see your aura."
The green girl looked at her with her own nictitating membrane, making her eyes look like solid blue jewels. "I see your aura, too."
They both returned to their regular sight. The green girl had no barrier against the rain—she was just letting it fall right on her.
"Zelda. Can I help you?"
"I just don't often get to meet a lot of witches outside my own family, and I thought I'd say hi." Ariana pointed up at the clouds. "This is your storm?"
"Seems to have scared everybody off."
"There was too much noise," Zelda said. "I wanted some peace and quiet."
"You sure this was really necessary? They're just here to have fun."
"Fun? Excuse me? Do you see that monument?" Zelda jabbed her finger toward the spire. "This was a battlefield. Hundreds died on this beach."
Ariana took a step back. She hadn't expected this girl to be so intense. "Y-yeah, I know," Ariana said. "My parents were there. And technically…" She pointed in the same direction. "That was the battlefield."
"Oh, of course. No concern over history? Tradition? Sacred space? You're an Orlynne, aren't you?"
Ariana's aura tightened up. "Say what?"
"Touched a nerve? Naturally. Only an Orlynne would content themselves with mere amusement rather than show some respect."
"That's my family you're talking about! How about you show some respect? I have as much right to be here as you do, and so does everybody else. If you don't stop this storm, I will."
"Go ahead and try."
"Fine." Ariana sent her aura into the sky, and carefully arranged her hands to help the aura maneuver. She felt it tangle with another powerful energy. Changing her sight, she saw her own aura circled by Zelda's. She circled it in return, knotted through it, pulled it around. That distracted Zelda's aura enough to break it away from the storm.
The rain died down to a drizzle, and the sun began to cut through the clouds.
Then a gob of sand hit Ariana in the face. Damp sand that fell in clumps.
Zelda was scooping up more. "You're skilled, but you're too easily distracted."
"Ugh, you are the worst!" Ariana flung a clod at Zelda, but it bounced off a foot away from her skin. "I've heard all about people like you. People who act like the war didn't end before we were ever born. You actually buy the hype about Effka, don't you? All that junk about fear and terror and secret rites?"
Zelda finally got up to her feet. "And what would an Orlynne like you know about our rites? You listen to too many rumors."
"I heard it from other Effka. Like my mom. And my grandparents. Who have been Effka their whole lives. So what do you really know about the Effka? I mean, that's a terrific bathing suit, and I wish I had one just like it, but if you're gonna talk about sacred space—"
Zelda swept her arm across, and a powerful wind burst from the side. Ariana had to brace herself on the ground, but it wasn't enough. The wind picked her up and tossed her over to the tide line. Sand spilled all around her and got in her mouth.
Ariana spat out as much as she could as she pushed herself up. Seaweed draped off her shoulder. "What's wrong with you?"
Ariana sank feet first into the sand, up to her neck.
"What's wrong?" Zelda said. "What's wrong is, I'm trying to use my magic to enjoy my day, at a place that's significant for our people, and you just had to butt in."
Ariana couldn't move her arms or legs. The sand was packed in too tight. Zelda's magic was strong, and her aura was huge. But that didn't necessarily mean she had skills. Mother Agathon would never have put up with this. "You know," Ariana said, "the Effka are supposed to be ascetics." She managed to dig some space for her hand. "They'd never use their magic just to push people around."
Zelda funneled in some ocean water, and launched it into Ariana's face. Some of the water wound up gulped down Ariana's throat. Zelda held more in a floating ball beside her.
With a gesture, Ariana sent a wave through the sand, and knocked Zelda off her feet. As Zelda tried to get up, Ariana pushed the sand out from around herself, then gathered it underneath her, lifting her back up to level. Her arms free, she swept them back, lifted a whole wall of sand behind Zelda, and dropped it on top of her.
Zelda blasted the sand off her body and wobbled up to her feet.
"Look, Zelda," Ariana said, "I don't want to fight you. I'm here for the same reason you are—to enjoy the beach, and my magic, in a place that's significant for my people. And you're the only other witch my age here. There's no reason we can't both have fun, right?"
Without saying a thing, Zelda raised the sand into the air, and swirled her arms, and blew the sand toward Ariana in a cloud. But Ariana was through being caught off guard. She pulled up a barrier that stopped the sand long before it ever hit her, then gave it a concave shape so it would blow the sand back at Ariana.
Then Zelda struck Ariana directly with her aura, tangling both auras together the way Ariana had against her. The tension between them began to strain Ariana's forearms. So she shifted her weight, raised one leg, and lowered both hands, slipping her aura loose, and springing it back on Zelda's like a whip.
Zelda flipped forward and landed on her back.
As she tried to stand up, Ariana pulled the sand from under Zelda.
Already the beach was once again filling up with other swimmers. Some had even gathered around to watch the fight. Ariana spotted the little boy who asked if she was a good witch or a bad witch. She hoped this hadn't made her look like a bad witch. It felt good to flex her spellcasting, but she wished it didn't have to be to subdue another witch.
"Hey, everybody." Ariana grabbed Zelda's hand and helped her up. "I, uh, hope you enjoyed the show. Be sure to check out the Witch War Memorial down that way. It'll dispel some myths about the Orlynne and the Effka, and why they were fighting."
"Where did you learn those moves?" the boy from earlier asked.
"Oh, it's just a thing or two I picked up from Mother Agathon. Don't know if you've heard of her."
"The Mother Agathon?" Zelda said. "You're her disciple?"
"I dunno if I'd call myself a disciple. I did go to mage camp at her convent when I was younger. I learned so much about Effka history and Effka spellcraft. It's really so much more than robes and dark rituals. I didn't realize you were a fan of hers."
"I watch her videos all the time."
"Then you should know what I'm talking about. She's really the sweetest lady in person. And she wanted reunification and peace more than anybody."
"Still." Zelda looked around at the families and lovers and friends playing at the beach under a clear sky. The monument stood tall over the dunes. "None of these people know. They don't understand what the war meant."
"But they're not your enemies. And I'm not trying to be your enemy, either. Mother Agathon wouldn't want us to fight, especially not here. So no hard feelings?"
Zelda closed her nictitating membrane and looked again. Ariana looked as well, and saw the faded blue auras of older magi, for whom the last battle was still a living memory. She also saw by the brighter blue auras that her parents were on their way over.
"I'm going inside to lie down," Zelda groaned. She flexed her aura and shed the sand that had covered her. "Mother Agathon herself, huh?" She stepped over the tide line, stretching her aura one more time, out behind Ariana. Zelda's towel flew past Ariana's head and into Zelda's hand.
"Hey, Zelda," Ariana said, "I meant what I said! If we run into each other later, let's hang out, okay?"
Zelda gave a loose, limp wave.
Ariana stretched her own aura and grabbed her bottled water and folding chair as her parents came up. Zelda never did apologize for the storm.
"Hi there, Sweetie," her father said, setting down his cooler. Her mom was setting up some folding chairs. Dad pointed over toward Zelda. "You make a new friend?"
Ariana caught her things and watched Zelda disappear into the crowd. "I dunno. Maybe. We kinda had a fight."
"Over what?" her mother said, wearing the Effka crest on her necklace.
"You know. Effka stuff," Ariana said. "I hope she understands."